Our nation’s forests and watersheds face increasing challenges that threaten everyday life in ways like climate change, wildfires, water scarcity, and invasive species. Land managers have to rethink their strategies to address these challenges, which do not recognize physical limits. As a result, solutions are needed that can be implemented across entire landscapes to create healthy and resilient forests.
To overcome these challenges, the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative promotes collaborative efforts and encourages its partners at the federal, state, tribal, and local levels to broaden the scope of their forest restoration efforts. RMRI was established as a collaboration between the National Wild Turkey Federation and the USDA Forest Service, selecting Colorado as the pilot location to demonstrate the Forest Service’s Shared Management strategy.
Partners within RMRI are restoring landscapes in the Southwest, Upper Arkansas, and Upper South Platte regions of Colorado. The goal is to restore 310,000 acres of public and private lands in the Southwest, 30,000 acres of public and private lands in Upper Arkansas, and 75,000 acres of public and private lands in the Upper South Platte.
In 2019, RMRI partners unanimously agreed to focus their initial combined efforts on southwestern Colorado. In 2022, RMRI’s landscape in this area received a total investment of $11,949,786 for restoration work, with $4,201,761 of the total non-Federal funding from various sources. Volunteers from the Wildfire Adapted Partnership, San Juan Mountains Association, and the City of Durango contributed 19,935 hours of their time, which equals $597,053. This funding and volunteer support enabled more than 100 projects and supporting activities on public, private, state and tribal lands to be completed by 2022. As we look back on the accomplishments and progress made, we can celebrate the successes achieved through these collective efforts. .
RMRI created a 10-year goal to treat 310,000 acres in the Southwest landscape; 290,000 of those acres on federal land and the remaining 20,000 acres on private land. RMRI partners aim to treat approximately 29,000 acres of federal land and 2,000 acres of private land annually. Additionally, a goal was created to restore 93,000 acres of public and private lands in the first three years.
Progress has been significant, with 13,734 acres of public land restored on the San Juan National Forest and US Bureau of Land Management lands, and 748 acres of private land restored by 2022. Restoration efforts they will improve the health of forests and mitigate the large sedimentation impacts of fires. to key watersheds, restore ecosystems, improve habitat, and reduce hazardous fuels to protect communities and prepare the landscape for fire.
In addition, RMRI’s efforts resulted in the restoration of 2,967 acres of water on public and private lands, as well as the mitigation of 9,717 acres to minimize the impact of catastrophic wildfires on surrounding communities.
The Upper Arkansas landscape encompasses Chaffee and Lake counties, which are home to the largest river basin in Colorado.
In 2020, the Envision Forest Health Council in Chaffee County formulated a 10-year plan aimed at reducing the threat of severe fire to community assets through targeted forest treatments covering up to 30,000 acres by 2030. A By the end of 2022, a total of 5,158 acres of public and private forest lands have been treated, raising $23 million for future forest planning and treatment projects. In addition, 1,098 private property owners have taken action to improve wildfire resilience in the county.
In Lake County, 155 acres of private land have been treated to mitigate wildfire threats to the community. In 2022, the Lake County community, in collaboration with citizens and a Community Wildfire Protection Plan Leadership Team, developed an updated version of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The primary goal of the updated plan is to decrease overall risk to community assets by approximately 50% within 10 years through prioritized treatment of specific acres.
upper south platte
The Upper South Platte watershed is a critical water source, providing 80-90% of the water supply for the Denver and Aurora metropolitan areas, serving about 3 million residents. The Upper South Platte Partnership takes the lead in this region, bringing together government agencies, water providers, non-profit organizations, and academic institutions. Through collaborative efforts in 2022, a total of 2,274 acres of land, spanning private, local, state, and federal properties, received treatment as part of co-management projects. Additionally, four fire protection districts conducted 292 home inspections and 930 properties participated in chipping programs. The Forest Service also burned 305 acres of cut piles, while $3 million in funding was allocated for new projects in the watershed, further supporting conservation efforts.
RMRI partners will continue their efforts to improve the key landscape of southwestern Colorado through restoration work in 2023. On May 4, 2023, the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region received $46,709,453 to implement fuel breaks as part of the implementation of the wildfire crisis strategy. The San Juan National Forest, which is part of RMRI’s Southwestern Colorado Landscape, will receive $13,150,000 to prepare 150,000 acres of land for prescription fires through mechanical treatments. This funding will help RMRI partners achieve their shared values of restoring forests and habitats, protecting communities, supporting recreation and tourism, and ensuring safe, clean water in this focal landscape.
For more information on the mission and ongoing projects of the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative, visit the website here.