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New trees planted in local wildfire burn zones

By Scott Harrison
Published On: May 15 2014 08:29:30 PM CDT

750 seedlings planted by student volunteers in Black Forest and near Waldo Canyon.

While many people continue to wonder who started the Black Forest and Waldo Canyon fires as their June anniversaries approach, a volunteer effort continues to undo some of the damage caused.

Organizations and agencies such as the Colorado State Forest Service and the Coalition for the Upper South Platte on Thursday sponsored tree-planting efforts to replace the thousands that burned in the 2012 and 2013 fires.

Elementary school students at School in the Woods in Black Forest planted 400 tree seedlings, while 16 high school students at Colorado Springs Early Colleges planted 350 young trees on the property of the Flying W Ranch.

Organizers said the trees were planted in areas that have enough soil to nurture the trees.  Planting trees after a fire is a common reaction, organizers said, but the 2002 Hayman Fire -- the largest in Colorado history -- showed that it's often not the right response.

"We planted thousands of trees (after Hayman), with a close to zero percent survival rate," said Theresa Springer, of CUSP.  "We're smarter now.  But it takes time.  You have to have soil first, then grass, then shrubs before the trees."

Springer said much work still is needed to protect newly-planted trees by controlling flooding and erosion in wildfire burn zones.

"We hope to start seeding on a larger scale next year," she said.  "But it's expensive.  Funding isn't always available."

Volunteers said that forest recovery work is rewarding and keeps them from worrying too much about whether this summer will bring a third consecutive major wildfire in the area.

"It's always on our mind -- could it happen again?" said volunteer Kristi Smith.  "What can we do to prevent that?  What can we do to make it better?  It's hard work, but it feels great."

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