South Platte Hayman Burn Area Restoration Project

The Hayman Fire burned 138,000 acres west of Denver in the South Platte Watershed.
Process of stabilizing a headcut

The National Forest Foundation (NFF), Vail Resorts, the U.S.D.A. Forest Service (USFS) and RMFI are collaborating to complete on-the-ground restoration work in the Upper South Platte watershed as part of the NFF’s Upper South Platte/Hayman Conservation Campaign. In 2002, the Hayman Fire burned for 20 days; it blazed through the Pike National Forest as well as other public and private lands. The fire destroyed 600 structures, jeopardized habitat for numerous threatened or endangered species, and severely impacted the water source for more than 75% of Colorado's 4.3 million residents and states downstream. The project area covers over 115,000 acres, and the majority of the restoration work will be completed in a 45,000 acre area burned by the Hayman Fire.

Typically, fire plays a natural role in the wellbeing of a ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forest; however, the absence of fire in the Pike National Forest during the 100 years prior to the Hayman Fire created an unnatural condition of large quantities of dead pine needles on the forest floor, short dry grasses and an over-abundance of small trees. Fire suppression efforts during the past century altered the forest’s natural housekeeping rhythm and created an environment in which the fire burned far hotter than the forest system could withstand. The extremely high intensity of the fire resulted in the elimination of trees that provided the seed source for natural regeneration. As a result, native flora was completely obliterated – this left behind a highly denuded landscape composed of acres of erodible disturbed soil and the associated risk for invasive species to take over. The unnaturally high rates of erosion caused by the Hayman Fire are problematic because they result in increased sediment being washed into the rivers which negatively impacts fish and wildlife habitat, streamflow, the health of the watershed, the quality and cost of the water supply for Colorado residents, and the recreational experience for anglers.

Since the fire, some parts of the affected landscape have shown signs of recovery both with and without human enforced restoration efforts. However, there remains a critical need for improvement to several watersheds. The West Creek, Manitou Park, Lower Trout and Four Mile watersheds represent the highest priority for addressing sediment issues. These are critical sub-watersheds of the larger Upper South Platter River Watershed.

Project Goal

The goal of the restoration effort is to reduce sediment output and increase aquatic habitat and stream channel stability in a number of critical sub-basins within the burn area.

Project Objectives

  • Obliteration of decommissioned forest roads and trails
  • Enhancement and relocation of trails away from active stream channels
  • Tree planting to increase reforestation rate
  • Noxious weed eradication