Sunlit sprouts emerging from Colorado burn areas |

Sunlit sprouts emerging from Colorado burn areas

Bruce Finley
the denver post
The Denver Post/AAron Ontiveroz

From Colorado’s scorched forest floors, aspen trees sprout, replacing blackened firs.

As state Forest Service ranger Boyd Lebeda crunches across charred branches and duff west of Fort Collins, he sees hundreds of the green shoots. Some reach as high as 2 feet, springing from root networks like ropes underlying roughly 5 percent of the High Park fire’s 87,284-acre burn zone.

Lebeda also sees mountain mahogany, chokecherries, currant, sumac, bitter brush and purple lupine.

This rapid emergence of new life – less than two months after the flames – hints at the potential for future aspen forests that state and federal experts say could be more diverse, healthy and resilient.

“That sprouting would not be happening without the fire,” Lebeda said.

The ecological benefits of wildfires are a bright side of the burning that ravaged more than 116,000 acres of forest this year and destroyed more than 600 homes along Colorado’s Front Range. Six people died in this year’s wildfires.

It’s largely a matter of letting in light where forests previously were unnaturally dense. Wildfires also release nutrients to the soil.

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