My name is Katherine Guerrero, acting media intern at RMFI for 2015-2016 and junior at Colorado College. Colorado College functions on the block plan, allocating 3 ½ weeks for one topic, an opportunity for students to fully immerse themselves into respective class topics. My 1st block class was titled ‘Environmental Management,” which allowed an in-depth look into common management strategies and the complicated networks that directly correlate to RMFI’s work with the Waldo Canyon Fire. Below are my reflections from a site visit to the Flying W Ranch in relation to management and mitigation strategies learned from the course and my time at RMFI.
2012 brought the Waldo Canyon Fire, a forest fire that spread throughout the west side of Colorado Springs, resulting in the evacuation of over 32,000 residents, the ecological disruption of multiple landscapes, and a label as the 2nd most destructive fire in Colorado state history. The Flying W Ranch, a western entertainment venue, fell victim to the Waldo Canyon Fire, burning to the ground, becoming a site prone to flash floods and in need of intensive mitigation to prevent further environmental disruption.
My ‘Environmental Management’ course emphasized that management works best as a holistic process yielding to multiple interests and actors, preferring a collective end goal between all parties involved through collaborative management. Collaboration can be defined as “a form of participation where stakeholders are jointly involved in the planning, implementation, and evaluation stages of the process,” encouraging diverse stakeholders to resolve conflict together while understanding the mutual benefits of involved and long-term projects. (Davies 2012).
Management depends on trust and network building to eventually benefit all invested parties. In context with the Flying W Ranch, the landscapes’ transition to a sensitive floodplain with the potential to cause issues in irrigation systems invited community interest. RMFI has stepped in to host collaborative Fire Restoration Skill Trainings for volunteers at the ranch. These collaborations have been hosted by RMFI, the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP), the Flying W Foundation, and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC) with the end goal of restoring burned landscapes in order to keep separate work consistent, current with the latest restoration research, and most effective while building the skills of volunteers who work with all organizations. Regardless of the private label on the ranch land, said irrigation issues could affect the city through sediment backup, flooding, and overall environmental degradation, thus become a larger community interest. Without proper mitigation strategies, the post-fire Flying W Ranch is somewhat of a threat to the surrounding area, highlighting the need for mitigation and restoration of the area. Since the burn, community members have volunteered in conjunction with the Ranch to slowly restore the ranch to its prior glory. Common mitigation methods in the ranch area include braiding, utilizing already available resources as logs for erosion barriers, and creating sediment detention ponds.
As natural with college courses, a majority of our learning revolved around academic articles assessing the weaknesses and strengths of management – in particular, an article authored by Carina Wyborn introduced the idea of scale of an area as a difficult but crucial barrier in collaborative conservation, relevant to Flying W Ranch because of the previously mentioned interconnectivity between direct private land and surrounding communities. Cross-collaboration is crucial to ensure that projects such as the Flying W Ranch are able to expand their reach outside their private land barrier. Organizations such as RMFI help provide the expertise needed for management/restoration in conjunction with government funding/support and an invested community. Without the interconnectivity of public, private and environmental agencies, RMFI included, large-scale projects so deeply integrated to surrounding communities would not be as holistically successful.
If interested in the ideas of ‘collaborative conservation’ and the importance of interconnectivity in management, I invite you to delve into the academic readings cited above:
Wyborn, Carina, and R. Patrick Bixler. "Collaboration and Nested Environmental Governance: Scale Dependency, Scale Framing, and Cross-scale Interactions in Collaborative Conservation." Journal of Environmental Management 123 (2013): 58-67. Web.
Davies, Althea L., and Rehema M. White. "Collaboration in Natural Resource Governance: Reconciling Stakeholder Expectations in Deer Management in Scotland." Journal of Environmental Management 112 (2012): 160-69. Web.