Forests to Faucets
The Forests-To-Faucets initiative is a partnership between the US Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Denver Water to reduce wildfire watershed risks and improve forest conditions across the Colorado Front Range. Over an eleven year period from 2010 to 2021, the partnership will have invested more than $64 million to conduct fuel reduction and forest management actions on nearly 73,000 acres of National Forest System lands in Denver Water zones of concern.
Beginning in 2016, the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute at Colorado State University has been included in this partnership to quantify the outcomes of fuel reduction and forest management actions. Our results are aimed at creating actionable knowledge for field staff, line officers, program managers, and policy. Our strategy is to inform learning and enable continuous improvement of effective actions towards achieving desired outcomes.
Forests on the Front Range of Colorado have grown denser as a result of a century of fire suppression. Dense forests are subject to large, severe wildfires, conditions which increase soil erosion and can degrade water quality. To prevent future catastrophic fires from affecting the Denver metro area water supply, this project focuses on forest thinning treatments on thousands of acres of public and private land. It uses Geographic Information Systems to map and model the continental United States land areas most important to surface drinking water, the role forests play in protecting these areas, and the extent to which these forests are threatened by development, insects and disease, and wildland fire.
In 2016 the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute joined the Forests to Faucets program to quantify the outcomes of fuel reduction and forest management actions. We have collected field based measurements of forest structure, fuel loading, and plant community development to evaluate effectiveness on over 1700 acres of planned management. We have also begun quantifying Forest to Faucet program accomplishments and wildfire risk reduction outcomes on over 7000 acres of USFS fuel reduction treatments completed prior to 2016.
The results of this assessment provide information that can identify areas of interest for protecting surface drinking water quality. The spatial dataset can be incorporated into broad-scale planning, such as the State Forest Action Plans, and can help identify areas for further local analysis. In addition, it can be incorporated into existing decision support tools that currently lack spatial data on important areas for surface drinking water.
Sharing of the latest science and follow up field visits with USFS South Platte Ranger District staff led to rapid feedback and immediate changes to treatment prescriptions that incorporate more effective strategies to accomplish fire hazard reduction and promote resilient long term forest development. CFRI is also taking lessons learned from the USFS Forest to Faucets program and helping partners achieve more effective outcomes on non-federal lands in the Denver Water zones of concern.
In perhaps its most important role, this work can serve as an education tool to illustrate the link between forests and the provision of surface drinking water—a key watershed-based ecosystem service.