Post-Fire Ecological Recovery

Post-fire monitoring

Following the 2020 Colorado wildfire season, The Watershed Center conducted three years of post-fire monitoring to assess the impacts of the Cal-Wood and Lefthand Canyon fires on riparian condition and understory community composition in the St. Vrain watershed. You can read about the results of the first year of monitoring in our 2022 State of the Watershed Report. Look for full results and takeaways in our 2024 State of the Watershed Report – coming soon!

Fire Followers

Monitoring recovery with Fire Followers

To aid scientists in covering a large burned area, volunteers came to the rescue in the form of Fire Followers, a community science project that utilizes a smartphone app to track vegetation. Fire Followers provided our staff scientists the people-power to walk the land and identify which plants are returning in the wake of wildfire. Thanks to support from Boulder County Parks and Open Space and Cal-Wood Education Center, hundreds of volunteers collected vegetation data that will inform decisions about post-fire weed treatments and opportunities for post-fire recovery work. Fire Followers collected more than 5,000 observations of vegetation after fire.

Post-fire restoration

We coordinate with public and private landowners to complete post-fire recovery projects to support the recovery of vulnerable watersheds from increased sediment inputs and over-population of non-native plant species. You can see some examples of the work we’ve done below:

Erosion control in the Cal-Wood Fire footprint

Erosion Control
In the wake of the Cal-Wood Fire in 2020, The Watershed Center and partners employed low-tech, process-based restoration practices – with a dash of innovation – to reduce risk to the watershed and downstream communities from erosion and debris flows. The erosion-control check dams and swales we installed at Cal-Wood Education Center, for example, are simple straw bales. This low-tech approach ensures that these tools will be readily absorbed into the landscape when their work is done. It also means they require some oversight and upkeep – something we’ve focused on for the past three years by checking up on sites and treatments and making adjustments where needed. Innovation comes into play as we inoculate these features with mushrooms, so they break down more quickly over time and help to produce rich, quality soil!
The Watershed Center brought the funding, technical expertise, and contractors necessary to implement critical post-fire recovery restoration at Cal-Wood. The restoration work acted as the first line of defense during early season rainfall events, trapping sediment and reducing erosion into waterways. It was extremely easy and efficient to work with the Watershed Center on these important projects.
Angie Busby

Natural Resource Manager, Cal-Wood Education Center

Seeding in the Cal-Wood and Lefthand Canyon Fire footprints

Restoration seeds
Planting Seeds
In the wake of the Cal-Wood Fire in 2020, The Watershed Center and partners employed low-tech, process-based restoration practices – with a dash of innovation – to reduce risk to the watershed and downstream communities from erosion and debris flows. The erosion-control check dams and swales we installed at Cal-Wood Education Center, for example, are simple straw bales. This low-tech approach ensures that these tools will be readily absorbed into the landscape when their work is done. It also means they require some oversight and upkeep – something we’ve focused on for the past three years by checking up on sites and treatments and making adjustments where needed. Innovation comes into play as we inoculate these features with mushrooms, so they break down more quickly over time and help to produce rich, quality soil!

Planting in the Cal-Wood Fire footprint

Planting Restoration
Planting
All photos by Jules O’Brien Photography
Planting
In 2022, The Watershed Center and wildfire recovery partners focused on planting native plants in the Cal-Wood fire footprint. Like seeding, planting in the wake of a fire can help establish ground cover and increase plant diversity in recently-burned areas. Many of our planting events focused on strategic drainages at particular risk of increased erosion.

Volunteers and landowners alike came together to plant 3,816 seedlings across the landscape!

Funding for fire recovery provided by

Boulder Mushroom, Cal-Wood Education Center, City of Longmont, Community Foundation Boulder County, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Left Hand Water District, St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, and Watershed Science and Design. See a full list of funders here.