The costs are immense and are projected to increase as wildfires become more frequent and more severe.
The firefighting effort, including aviation and personnel is costly. The loss of buildings and power transmission lines is common. The loss of whole communities is tragic. As whole towns shut down, tax revenue drops dramatically. Recovery can be a long-term proposition. The loss of vegetation and recreation assets can be significant. The fire itself increases our carbon output and we lose the vegetation to capture carbon.
When you add up the suppression, indirect and rehabilitation costs, the infamous 2002 Hayman Fire in Colorado, cost around $207 million, according to the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition. Each cost category has gone up exponentially since then.
Recently, I had the opportunity to stay at one of the magnificent Summit County Huts. The journey began at a Summit Stage stop in Frisco near the post office. The ride as always is free to guests and 15 minutes later I disembarked at Passage Point Copper Mountain.
The group of volunteers gathered, then made our way up the Colorado Trail about 5.5 miles to Janet’s Cabin. The forest was reasonably plush, as it had been raining and at 11,000 feet. Dead lodgepole pines were not in sight. It even snowed in the evening and the next chilly morning. The outing provided the perfect get away to think about the daunting environmental issues here in the region and beyond.
Millions of Americans will visit our magnificent forests and waterways over the summer engaged in hiking, rafting, fishing, and camping. This is coincidentally at a time when we are in full crisis mode, as the Pacific Northwest and Northeast Coast bake in an extremely dangerous heat wave. Humans are suffering and dying. Infrastructure is severely strained as roads are buckling and power cables are melting.
This follows an extreme episode in the already notoriously arid southwest where a 20-year mega drought continues with expectations that it will get worse.
Global warming trends are a significant contributor to the precarious situation we face. The parched soil is not able to help absorb the heat as temperatures rise. Global warming is costing us and will continue to do so in the future unless we act with massive ferocity.
It was snowing here in Summit County a few weeks ago, when I boarded the Colorado Bustang bus service at the Frisco Transit Center. I was heading west for a mud season break. It was me, my backpack, and my bike. My destination, Grand Junction. And after a few comfortable hours reading and napping, I arrived at the Grand Valley Transportation Station. There are timely bus connections to take you just about anywhere in the region, including Palisade and Fruita. The drivers are friendly and informative.
Beyond the Trail Series
Powerful Outdoor Restoration Bill
You will be heartened to learn Senator Michael Bennet has just introduced the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, a powerful step forward for our forests and watersheds. The Senator rightly cites our natural assets as infrastructure that warrant investment.
This is a key development. I have long advocated for this approach to natural asset restoration and care. If we don’t leave a factory in disrepair, why would we allow our life and economy providing natural assets to deteriorate?
As a kid in Milwaukee, WI, my parents encouraged me to play outside and in the dirt. The backyard and all the beautiful parks were fair game and after an adventurous day getting dirty, I felt healthy and energized waiting to do it all again. Little did I know at the time how powerful and dynamic soil really is for us.
It is so important that archaeologists have determined the demise of many sophisticated civilizations, such as the Mayans of Central America and the Harappan of India, resulted directly from the mismanagement of their soils. (Soil Science of America)
“One Sustainable Brand at a Time”
We currently consume goods & services with little attention to their ecological footprint. For us to reach a sustainable balance between humans and the natural world, our consumption and choices must experience a radical paradigm shift with conscientious purchases that protect our natural resources.
Here in Summit County, two startups in retail are changing this dynamic. In Breckenridge, Folcland Clothing (https://folcland.com) owner Alyssa Pullekines takes sustainability seriously. She offers a dynamic suite of women’s clothes. “Not only do the lines we offer prioritize natural, up-cycled, and eco-friendly materials and low impact techniques, but also overall production quality and labor standards,” says Pullekines.
The 2019 Colorado Climate Action Plan signed by Governor Polis recently received an encouraging boost. About a month ago it was considered a draft Roadmap to reduce GHG (Greenhouse Gas) and Pollution. It outlines potential policies to achieve our States’ goal to reduce GHG by 25% by 2025 and 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.
While the development of a road map is encouraging, some believe it lacks clarity and definitive steps with a timeline. It also comes 18 months after the updated Climate Action Plan was signed by Governor Polis.
“I don’t see anything new that the administration hasn’t already presented,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, a Senior Climate Policy Analyst at Western Resource Advocates. “We need a sense of urgency.”
We will require additional action beyond current policy particularly since there are few firm regulatory mandates with a strict timeline attached to them.
This past Saturday marked the 27th National Public Lands Day. It is a special day that recognizes our shared societal bond that we all can enjoy the beauty, solitude and health-giving attributes of our parks and forests.
Those human and economic benefits are under attack as we battle climate change. The Wilderness Society found that the green-house gas emissions from the production and combustion of fossil fuels, produced on our public lands due to federal leasing programs, are equivalent to over 20% of total U.S. GHG emissions.
Our land and water assets need to be a strong ally in our fight for our health. They filter pollutants and capture carbon. As our forests emit enormous carbon through wildfires, managing our land to help mitigate this threat is essential.
By Tom Koehler
Wildfires continue to scorch significant swaths of land, most significantly in California but also in Colorado. These forests are necessary to combat climate change through carbon capture. Yet the warming trend exacerbates the severity of these wildfires. These fires release immense amounts of carbon. The fires also cost us trees and vegetation that fight pollution and capture carbon. Though some believe it is a net neutral evolution as nature takes its course.
Some forest ecologists and atmospheric scientists generally view wildfire as being carbon neutral. As fires burn, chewing through structures and vegetation, they spit out vast amounts of carbon and other compounds in their smoke. "But then over time, we expect a lot of that carbon dioxide will be drawn back down by plants growing again," says Rebecca Buchholz, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, based in Boulder. She says, "For fires, it's all about balance."
By Tom Koehler
An incredibly unique area of our eco-system provides tremendous outsized positive impact. A riparian zone is land along waterways including floodplains and stream banks such, as those along the Lower Blue River. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), riparian zones comprise only 1% of land in the western US but are among our most productive and valuable natural resources.
This dynamic area filters pollutants and helps control erosion so unwanted sediment is not sent downstream. Our drinking water supply is naturally aided by this wonder of nature. Riparian zones possess distinct soil and vegetation characteristics from upland zones. Ground water is nearer the surface and promotes robust vegetation and is typically nutrient rich.
By Tom Koehler
In last month’s article, I highlighted how serious the problem is with our water resources here in the Lower Blue and all down the Colorado River. This river that serves up to 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles has seen its flow dwindle 20% from last century. Most is attributable to climate change according to US Geological Survey scientists Chris Milly and Krista A. Dunne. They estimate the River supports approximately $1 Trillion of economic activity annually.
Flows start high in the Rockies in forested watersheds that we hold dear for their beauty and recreation. These watersheds filter pollutants out of the air and water and possess amazing carbon capture properties through soil and vegetation, including trees. But our forests that provide all this are at risk
By Tom Koehler
Water provides health, life, and economy and yet as vital as this precious resource is, we are staring at a serious supply demand deficit in the coming years in the Colorado River Basin. This has prompted officials through a multi-basin collaborative approach to come up with the Colorado Water Plan in 2015 and with renewed attention, it is time to become educated and involved.
The increase in population and climate change has the Colorado Basin in a precarious position as it will be asked to deliver more as it has less as time goes on. We recreate, reside, and use the water directly and indirectly here in the Lower Blue River Valley. This magnificent river corridor is home to abundant wildlife, avian and aquatic species as well as robust agriculture and ranching. It runs elegantly from the Dillon Reservoir to the Colorado River Headwaters in Kremmling, CO. We are a vital link.