A study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado - Boulder in partnership with U.S. Forest Service, Northern Arizona University, Colorado State University, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington, surveyed 22 wildfire burn scars in the southern Rockies.
The lead author in this study is Kyle Rodman, who has studied forest science and geography in Arizona and Colorado, earning his doctorate at CU Boulder.
His team found that about 40% of the burned areas were not recovering well. He highlights that the Hayman fire in particular has tens of thousands of acres that may never become forest again, and will now be grassland.
On that note, the other 60% of burned acreage is expected to recover back to forestry, eventually. This post-fire recovery can take decades, and favors higher elevations with wet and cooler weather. Recovery is also more likely on the edge of burn scars, with living trees nearby. Dry and low elevation areas can have trouble, and that is where grasslands can take over.
Rodman notes that this research isn't aimed at doom and gloom, but to help plan for the future. The Colorado forest landscape will change based on their climate modeling, which accounts for more wildfire burned acreage in future decades.
And this change is partly counted for by the US Forest Service. Their job is to re-establish adequate forest by planting trees in federal land.
Michael Tooley is a silviculturist with the Rio Grande National Forest. You can think of him as the ultimate forest expert. When it comes to replanting forest post-fire, he says the sooner the better. It takes about 2 years to plan for and allow for seedlings to grow and be transplanted at the site.
Tooley emphasizes the importance of strategy when planting trees to maximize success with the lowest cost. It's best for seedlings to be placed in shade and within areas of higher moisture content, to make sure they take to the landscape and grow.
The Forest Service does not solicit donations, but if you would like to help with reforestation you can click here. Or you can donate through these Colorado organizations. Most National Forest will also accept volunteer workers when it comes to planting new trees.