Editor's note: This is the third in a series of special stories about the National Forest Foundation and restoring Colorado's forests.
DECKERS, Colorado - On Friday, dozens of employee volunteers from Vail Resorts, five Colorado conservation organizations, representatives from state and local governments, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation gathered to recognize the three-year Hayman Restoration Partnership that brought over $4 million to restore a portion of the 2002 Hayman fire. The Hayman fire burned a total of 137,760 acres and was Colorado's largest and most impactful fire.
While fire plays a natural role in the wellbeing of a forest that is home to ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees, the absence of fire during the past century created an unnatural condition of large quantities of dead pine needles on the forest floor, short dry grasses and an over-abundance of small trees. Fire suppression efforts during the past century altered the forest's natural housekeeping rhythm and created the environment for the Hayman fire to burn far hotter than normal across many acres.
The fire was so intense in some areas, trees that provide the seed source for natural regeneration were eliminated. Instead of stimulating growth in a post-fire environment, a high-intensity fire can obliterate the native flora, leaving behind disturbed soil, erosion and the opportunity for invasive species to take over. The most significant aftermath of the Hayman fire has been its impact on the water source for more than 75 percent of Colorado's 4.3 million residents living in Denver and along the Front Range. Some watersheds continue to produce inordinate amounts of sediment, such as the Trail Creek watershed near Deckers that is producing 60 percent more sediment than before the fire.
To address the issue and support the U.S. Forest Service with restoration, the Hayman Restoration Partnership, led by the National Forest Foundation and Vail Resorts, has planted trees, installed natural erosion control structures, reseeded thousands of acres and put youth conservation groups to work on the landscape. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recognized the 10-year anniversary of the fire and proclaimed June 8 as Hayman Remembrance Day.
"Today, the story of the Hayman Fire is one of restoration, collaboration and partnerships," said Daniel Jiron, regional forester for the U.S Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region. "As we work together to restore the landscape it also serves to restore the community's connection to the landThe Forest Service could not have planted 1 million trees, reseeded 17,000 acres, spent more than 100,000 hours and hired world renowned expert Dave Rosgen to restore this area without the leadership from partners and volunteers along the way."
"Three years ago the Pike National Forest became one the National Forest Foundation's first Treasured Landscapes conservation sites," said NFF President Bill Possiel. "The Hayman Restoration Partnership has since demonstrated the tremendous results that can be reaped through public-private partnerships. The leadership of Vail Resorts, the generosity of many donors, and the hard work of our partners at the Forest Service and local conservation organizations has enabled us to raise $2 million and make great strides in revitalizing Colorado's precious forests and watersheds."
During the past three years, Vail Resorts employees have engaged with on-the-ground restoration projects contributing 1,500 volunteer hours in the Trail Creek watershed.
"This partnership illustrates the power of the private sector and government working together to solve a one of the most critical environmental issues in Colorado," said Rob Katz, chief executive officer for Vail Resorts. "The commitment from Vail Resorts, the Gates Family Foundation and Aurora Water together the National Forest Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service has resulted in truly groundbreaking work that will change fire restoration across the country. Through this partnership, Vail Resorts is proud to be a leader in forest health - something that connects our business, our employees and our guests."
The keystone of the Hayman Restoration Partnership is a watershed restoration master plan created by Dr. Dave Rosgen, internationally recognized stream restoration expert. Rosgen has implemented a plan to restore the Trail Creek watershed and his work is also training ground for experts from around the world. Restoration work will continue beyond the 10-year anniversary and others are joining the effort to provide nature a nudge in recovery.
At National Forest sites across the country, the National Forest Foundation's "Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences" conservation campaign is bringing together public and private partners to carry out large-scale forest and watershed restoration, revitalizing critical ecosystems in some of our nation's most iconic public lands. With a wide-reaching emphasis on volunteerism, outreach, and the enhancement of recreation opportunities, the campaign is also dedicated to reconnecting Americans to the outdoors.
Kim Langmaid Ph.D. lives in Vail and is the director of Colorado programs for the National Forest Foundation. Contact her at email@example.com or visit www.nationalforests.org.