U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell today announced a new nonprofit-operated fund allowing people across the country to support environmental restoration work in areas damaged by wildfire. The Wildfire Recovery Fund established by the National Forest Foundation will help work crews to restore and protect waterways, stabilize soils to prevent mudslides and plant new trees following wildfires.
“Our work isn’t over when we’ve put the fire out. If restoration efforts aren’t underway before the next big storm hits, critical drinking water supplies may be endangered and overall forest health compromised for years to come,” said Tidwell. “When you consider that one in five Americans get their drinking water from a national forest, it is all the more important to get to work once the fire is out.”
“In recent years we have experienced increasing levels of catastrophic fire that have brought about dramatic changes, especially in the American West,” said Bill Possiel, president of the National Forest Foundation. “Our goals are ambitious, but our purpose is clear. Our national forests need our help and together we can ensure that these amazing places are healthy so that future generations can enjoy their many benefits.”
Recovery efforts are vital to ensure that water flowing from burned forests is clean and free of ash, mud and other contaminants. The loss of ground cover such as grasses, shrubs and moss dramatically increases the possibility of mudslides.
In most cases, only a portion of the burned area is actually treated. Severely burned areas, very steep slopes, places where water runoff will be excessive, fragile slopes above homes, businesses, municipal water supplies and other valuable facilities are focus areas. The treatments must be installed as soon as possible, generally before the next damaging storm.
Some of the primary stabilization techniques used include reseeding of ground cover with quick-growing or native species, mulching with straw or chipped wood, construction of straw, rock or log dams in small tributaries and placement of logs to catch sediment on hill slopes are the primary stabilization techniques used. Work crews might also need to modify road and trail drainage mechanisms by installing debris traps, modifying or removing culverts to allow drainage to flow freely, adding additional drainage dips and constructing emergency spillways to keep roads and bridges from washing out during floods.
Over the years, the U.S. Forest Service and National Forest Foundation have worked together to restore dozens of fire-damaged areas, including the Hayman Restoration Partnership, a three-year, $4 million project that is Colorado’s largest public-private partnership aimed at restoring areas severely damaged by the Hayman Fire ten years ago. The project is addressing 45,000 acres of the most severely affected watersheds feeding into the Upper South Platte River, which supplies much of Denver’s water.