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Background on Healthy Forest Management: Best Practices for Colorado's Front Range

By David Oettinger, Anchor Point Group

Note: for a glossary of terms used in this article, see the Boulder County Wildfire Mitigation Glossary.

Ponderosa pine restoration is needed to return forests to an ecologically sustainable condition and to reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfire and insect epidemics (Kaufman et al., 2003). Restoration efforts should be guided by the historical range of variability and current ecological conditions.

Ponderosa pine forests all along the Front Range of Colorado have changed dramatically over the past 100 years. Since European settlement, activities such as logging, grazing, construction, and fire suppression have resulted in forests typically composed of dense timber with numerous small-diameter trees, thick layers of litter and ladder fuels, and lack of rangeland vegetation. The absence of periodic fire has left a legacy of weak, slow-growing trees that compete for limited soil moisture, minerals, and sunlight. Such forests are more susceptible to widespread disease, insect outbreaks, and historically uncommon devastating wildfires.

What are the forest restoration and wildfire mitigation objectives of the NCAR Mesa project?

  1. Restore forest composition, structure and landscape distribution to within the bounds of historical range of variability by implementing restoration prescriptions.
  2. Mitigate the risk of catastrophic, uncontrollable wildfires.
  3. Selectively remove insect- and disease-damaged trees.
  4. Increase the proportion of old-growth forest and decrease the proportion of closed canopy forest through selective thinning.
  5. Protect retained forest and specimen trees.

How will these objectives be achieved?

  1. Reduce tree density per acre. A reduction in basal area is needed to restore a more vigorous and healthy balance to the forest.  Basal area is the cross section area of the stem or stems of a plant or of all plants in a stand, generally expressed as square units per unit area (Johnson et al., 2005).
  2. Implement and maintain defensible spaces around all structures. Currently, the Fleischmann Building is most vulnerable to fire and smoke damage.
  3. Conduct sanitation thinning. This process includes removal of: trees containing dwarf mistletoe; trees infested with mountain pine beetle and ponderosa pine needle miner; and unhealthy, suppressed, and poorly structured trees.
  4. Remove small-diameter regeneration (less than 3”) trees, particularly if acting as ladder fuels.


Kaufmann, M. Romme, W.H., Veblen, T.T., 2003. Historical Fire Regimes in Ponderosa Pine Forests of the Colorado Front Range, and Recommendations for Ecological Restoration and Fuels Management. Colorado Restoration Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado State University.

Johnson, S., McLean M., Moraga R., Tobler, M. 2005. Ecosystem Management Plan: Supporting Sustainable Management of Natural Resources. Anchor Point Group. PDF





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