Contributed by Karin Emanuelson, Restoration Engineer, Stillwater Sciences
On August 13, 2020, the Cameron Peak Fire ignited in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest. In the subsequent days and months, Northern Colorado residents experienced smoke-filled skies, ash raining down, and a series of evacuations. Ultimately, the fire became one of the largest wildfires in Colorado’s recorded history, burning 208,913 acres of forest in the Poudre, Big Thompson, and Laramie watersheds. Personally, this fire left me with grief for the devastation to one of my favorite recreation spaces, but also filled me with curiosity to observe the cascading effects of such a large disturbance. Questions like “How will the landscape rebound?” and “What can we do to help?” weighed on my mind.
Just over one year after the ignition of the Cameron Peak Fire, members of the Colorado Riparian Association joined Hally Strevey of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW) and John Giordanengo of AloTerra Restoration Services at Stodgy Brewery in Fort Collins to discuss post-fire recovery efforts in the Cache la Poudre River Basin. Hally detailed CPRW’s work to identify, prioritize, and coordinate aerial mulching of more than 10,000 high-priority acres in the Poudre watershed. Aerial mulching has been shown to be one of the most effective and large-scale methods for mitigating impacts from wildfire (such as debris flows, ash flows, sedimentation, and nutrient loading), particularly in remote locations. Hally further explained the extensive on-the-ground fieldwork needed to verify mulch coverage and depth to maximize the success of the treatment. Aerial mulching is not the only activity planned to help mitigate fire impacts; seeding is an important follow-up that will help revegetate priority slopes within the watershed. John G. discussed AloTerra’s goals for post-fire seeding, site-specific seed mix components, and reseeding methods. Additionally, he shared some results from AloTerra’s High Park Fire study that found that seeding helped control weeds and created a high level of perennial grass cover.
The event continued as CRA members sipped local brews, asked questions, and discussed what may come next in the Cameron Peak Fire recovery efforts. Importantly, the event offered a much-needed opportunity to get together in person with old and new friends and colleagues, all of whom care deeply about the Cache la Poudre River and wildfire impacts to Colorado’s rivers. I felt that this event, in itself, was an important part of the post-fire recovery efforts, as it was one that supported recovery of the CRA community.