Waldo Canyon Burn Scar

The Waldo Canyon Fire burned just west of Colorado Springs in 2012. The fire burned 18,000 acres in 5 major watersheds.
Three-year photo series showing the impact of RMFI's restoration work in the Upper Camp Creek drainage of the Waldo Canyon burn scar.

BACKGROUND

On June 23, 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire broke out just west of Colorado Springs. Seventeen days later the fire had burned over 18,000 acres. The loss of nearly 350 homes made it the second-most destructive wildfire in the state’s history (the Black Forest Fire of 2013 currently ranks first). The Waldo fire affected 4 major watersheds in and around Colorado Springs: Fountain Creek, Camp Creek, Douglas Creek, and Monument Creek. There are three levels of soil burn severity within the burn scar. Approximately 41% of the area is low/unburned, 40% moderate severity, and 19% high severity. Of total acres burned, 14,422 are national forest (79%), 3,678 private (20%), and 147 are Department of Defense (<1%). Environmental rehabilitation of the burn will take years and will require collaboration between a multitude of government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Community volunteers and youth conservation corps will play a critical role in completing much of the on-the-ground hand crew work including slope stabilization and seeding.

WORK OBJECTIVES

Since 2012, RMFI has worked with project partners to restore degraded areas in the Waldo Canyon burn by revegetating bare slopes and minimizing the impacts from flooding and debris flows. RMFI is working closely with the U.S. Forest Service, El Paso County, and City of Colorado Springs, as well as other partners including Coalition for the Upper South Platte and Mile High Youth Corps. RMFI has been an active member of the Waldo Canyon Regional Recovery Group, which formed after the fire as a way to collaborate post-fire restoration efforts among all affected stakeholders. This group has transitioned to the El Paso County Regional Watershed Collaborative in 2015; RMFI was nominated to be a member of the Collaborative's leadership team.  

RMFI's work in the burn scar has focused on two key components: 1) Slope stabilization. With the loss of vegetation due to the fire, there is no root structure to hold soil in place. It then takes very little erosional force to begin transporting sediment down stream. 2) Revegetation. Once soils are stabilized, crews can initiate vegetation growth by seeding or planting. The topography of an area, soil burn severity, and proximity to valuable resources dictate the degree of stabilization, and therefore the type of structures, required.

Specific project objectives include:

  1. Reducing soil loss and subsequent sediment loading of downstream water resources, and minimizing the impacts of flooding and debris flows.
  2. Increasing native vegetation cover.
  3. Promoting re-opening of public access to recreation areas where deemed safe and appropriate by land management agencies.
  4. Engaging the community in the hands-on restoration of the burn scar.
  5. Engaging youth in environmental stewardship opportunities to inspire conservation leadership and action.

2018 WORK FOCUS

  • Complete willow revegetation in selected riparian areas and associated stabilization/restoration of surrounding burned areas. 

PROJECT PARTNERS AND FUNDERS

  • Boeing
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Coalition for the Upper South Platte
  • Colorado Water Conservation Board
  • El Paso County Regional Watershed Collaborative members
  • FedEx
  • Mile High Youth Corps
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • National Forest Foundation
  • Pikes Peak Community Foundation
  • Southwest Conservation Corps
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • Waldo Waldo, Inc.