New study suggests some Colorado forests may become grassland following wildfires

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BOULDER, Colo. (KDVR) – As thousands of acres continue to burn across Colorado, new research from a team at the University of Colorado Boulder suggests some of those forests may be gone for good. 

“Generally fires that burn in those kind of places and kill a lot of trees, we can expect either they’re not going to return to forest or it’s going to be very slow,” Kyle Rodman told FOX31. 

Rodman is one of the authors of the study. The research paints a grim picture for the future of forests in Colorado following wildfire. 

“For me it’s hard. As somebody that grew up in Colorado, to think that many of the places that I’ve lived in and recreated in might look quite different,” Rodman said. 

According to the research, right now about 40% of scorched forests will not regrow. By 2050, the research suggests if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, about 95% of the forests will be unable to support regrowth.

“The areas that we can pretty much write off are the ones that are very low elevations, maybe south-facing aspects,” Rodman said. 

In areas where forests are unable to regrow following a fire, they would turn into grassland or shrub land areas. 

“These are still really pretty places so it’s not saying that they’re destroyed or ruined in some way but certainly different,” Rodman said. 

However, the future is not set in stone. 

“Thinking about the future can be a little scary sometimes, especially given that we don’t really know what might happen,” he said. 

While some forests may not regrow naturally, seeding and replanting can help. 

“Those reforestation efforts can work quite well when they can actually restore forest much quicker than the forest might recover naturally,” he said. 

Rodman cautions that forest restoration is expensive, time-consuming work and that it doesn’t always work. 

Land managers are already planning recovery efforts in the Glenwood Springs canyon area following the Grizzly Creek Fire. Restoration is set to begin in 2021. The National Forest Foundation is accepting donations to aid in the efforts. 

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