Brenna Egan, YVSC Intern | July 26, 2022

My name is Brenna Egan, and I am working with Yampa Valley Sustainability Council as a summer intern before I begin my Masters in Geography at the University of Utah. I have been working with Tim Sullivan, YVSC’s  Resilient Land and Water Director, and Nicole Pepper, YVSC’s Geospatial Analyst/Internship Program Manager, to develop a plan for reforestation in post burn sites in Routt County. We aim to create a feasible plan for reforestation that contributes to our Natural Climate Solutions goals.

Colorado’s relationship with wildfire is complex, and it often feels grim and overwhelming. There is no denying the impact of the intense “megafires” that the western US experiences every
summer. They curtail natural regeneration by burning soils, seeds and trees beyond natural repair. Ecological impacts such as biodiversity loss, landslides and watershed disruption can occur for a decade or more after one of these megafires. Furthermore, these fires are almost impossible to prevent after decades of aggressive fire suppression and the effects of climate change. 

In many of the fires around Routt County, large swaths of pine-beetle-killed lodgepole pine are being consumed by flames. While this creates bigger, hotter fires, it also clears space for a new, healthy forest to grow with the potential to become a carbon sink. With the correct management plan and implementation, Routt County has an opportunity to set an example of reforestation in an area doomed to burn. 

My project aims to reforest burn scars and increase atmospheric carbon sequestration. Using satellite analysis, we are identifying priority sites for reforestation with maximum benefit and accessibility. By prioritizing accessibility and need, we hope to create a plan that can be readily implemented and creates a significant impact on our climate future. There is a chance to create a global difference by turning long-dead, stagnant forests into massive carbon sinks capable of sequestering large amounts of atmospheric carbon over a lifetime. Not only does reforestation provide a global climate benefit, but the community will benefit through stabilizing burn areas and protecting water resources from soil erosion, as well as protecting trails.

There is no better time than right now to begin planning for reforestation as a community. In an unexpected moment of uplifting and exciting political progress, President Biden passed the REPLANT Act (Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees) in November of 2021. This act is a massive win for American forests. In 1980, Congress created a trust for the Forest Service specifically for reforestation, funded by the import of exotic wood. The Forest Service has only had access to a small amount of the trust until now. With new, full access to a fund completely devoted to reforestation, the Forest Service is poised to take on as many reforestation projects as can be managed. 

This is a great opportunity for the community to increase its focus on reforestation projects.  YVSC’s Yampa Valley Climate Crew is always looking for volunteers to take part in projects focused on healthy forest regeneration. An exciting upcoming volunteer opportunity is taking place with YVSC and the Forest Service. Starting September 14th, our volunteers will be cleaning up one of the area’s lodgepole pine seed plantations. These plantations provide high quality seed stock that will be used to replant Routt county’s forests. Maintaining them is critical to insuring a plentiful tree supply in nurseries for future reforestation projects. Please join YVSC for a day of protecting the future of our forests! If you are interested in volunteering, visit our website for more information or to sign up.