Report: “Forest Management to Protect Colorado’s Water Resources”

“Executive Summary
The Colorado Water Plan is a collaborative framework that sets forth objectives, goals and actions by which Coloradans can collectively address current and future water challenges through feasible and innovative solutions. As a majority of the state’s water supply flows from forested watersheds, the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS), a service and outreach agency of the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University, is an active partner in working to achieve these goals.

Per the mandate of House Bill 16-1255: Concerning Additional Methods to Manage Forests to Secure Favorable Conditions for Water Supply, this synthesis report includes the results of recent research documenting the effects of wildland fire, insect and disease outbreaks, a changing climate, and roads and human disturbance on Colorado’s forests and water supply. It describes the challenges and potential benefits of forest management treatments for water quantity and quality needs. It also includes a brief summary ofthe potential costs to – and effects on – watersheds, communities, water users and infrastructure if forest management does not occur.

Forest disturbances, such as wildfire and insect and disease outbreaks, are a natural part of the cycle of change in forested landscapes. Over the last two decades, however, Colorado has witnessed both growing numbers of large, high-severity wildfires and unprecedented levels of tree mortality caused by bark beetle outbreaks. Recent research has advanced scientific understanding regarding the watershed implications of these disturbances, yet much remains to be learned. Projections of increased disturbance frequency and severity have therefore created concerns regarding the sustained delivery of clean water from headwater forests. Science-based forest management can reduce hazardous fuels levels linked to wildfire risk and severe fire behavior, and can create forest stand conditions that are less susceptible to bark beetle infestations. Active treatments aimed at protecting human safety, homes and other infrastructure play an important role in reducing costs to communities and water users in the expanding wildland urban interface. Additionally, the application and evaluation of Forestry Best Management Practices are known to limit erosion and water quality impairment from forest harvesting and road building, and road use by industry, recreationists and rural landowners. Partnerships are essential for completing management activities, with the CSFS working with public and private partners to achieve watershed health and water supply protection goals. ”


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