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Flames rise above the roof tops as a wildfire burns near Bear Creek Regional Park on the westside of Colorado Springs, Colo., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. About 235 homes were evacuated near the park as firefighters battled the fire on the ground and in the air. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

The recent wildfire on Colorado Springs’ southwest side is a reminder of the vulnerability of the Pikes Peak region.

For several hours, ominous, billowing smoke could be seen for miles. I’m betting you shared my concern that the destruction would impact neighborhoods and favorite public spaces. As lovely as October and November have been, the region needs cooler temperatures and precipitation.

The horrific fires that burned in the state’s north and northwest regions are still fresh in our minds. Homes destroyed, people’s lives overturned, wildlife killed and hundreds of thousands of acres of trees lost.

The city’s founder, Gen. William Jackson Palmer, adored trees and parks. He put an aggressive plan in motion to ensure the Springs planted hundreds of trees and preserved acres of parkland.

The city forester recently provided a “state of our trees” to both the TOPS Working Committee and Parks Advisory Board. He has a staff of 11 to care for thousands of city trees. When you do the math, that amounts to 24,454 trees per staff member. The recommended pruning cycle is seven years. Our trees are on a 73-year cycle. When residents call to request tree maintenance, they are placed on a list. It can take years to get assistance.

Forest management leads to healthier forests. Healthier forests minimize the risk of wildfires. That being said, forest management is not inexpensive. To “treat” an acre of forest costs about $5,000. We are fortunate that the area where the recent wildfire occurred was treated three years ago. Otherwise, it might have been much worse.

Palmer loved trees as does today’s community. When the call went out to plant trees in his honor, as the city prepares to celebrate its sesquicentennial, hundreds of residents responded. But there is a disconnect between our love of trees, our fear of wildfires and our unwillingness to invest adequately in our city trees and forest management. We have tasked our city forestry department to manage our urban forest in a healthy, safe and sustainable state. We expect forest staff to manage risk and honor our founder’s forest legacy. All they ask of us is to give them the tools to fulfill their mission.

Davies is executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition.

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