You are here

Back to the Future for Front Range Forests

Posted date: January 31, 2018

Science-based framework will help prioritize Front Range fuels reduction and forest restoration work

* News Release issued jointly by the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado State University, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and The Wilderness Society.

FORT COLLINS, COLO., Jan. 31, 2017 - Recent tragic wildfires across the West have brought the terms “forest health” and “forest restoration” into the lexicon of everyday Americans. Coloradans are keenly aware of catastrophic wildfires and their aftermath and are looking for ways to prevent them and conserve their treasured forest landscapes.

Principles and Practices for the Restoration of Ponderosa Pine and Dry Mixed-Conifer Forests of the Colorado Front Rangereleased today, is designed to guide restoration practices and prioritize efforts to remove hazardous fuels in order to improve the overall health of Colorado’s Front Range forests.    

“Our goal was to explore ways of meeting fuels reduction objectives and changing wildfire behavior, but doing it in a way that considers how the forest was structured historically and what kind of forest we expect in the future,” said Rob Addington, lead author of the paper, who was with the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute at Colorado State University during the development of the synthesis and is now with The Nature Conservancy.

In 1860, a typical ponderosa pine forest along the Colorado Front Range was open enough to ride a horse through, weaving between spread out clumps of trees. Today, these forests are crowded with smaller trees, which makes them vulnerable to severe wildfires, insect epidemics and disease. This synthesis highlights ways to increase the health and resilience of current forests, while also strengthening forests against future disturbances. While restoration treatments are not expected to re-create the diversity of structure in the 1860s, the hope is that by pushing the stand structure of these forests -towards conditions more typical of the past, they will be more resilient for the future.

“Managers have known for a long time that placed-based approaches to forest management are important and that we should not be doing the same thing everywhere,” said Mike Battaglia, co-author with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. “This research provides information on how to better recognize important interactions that occur between topography, natural disturbances, and forest developmental processes to help managers incorporate all of these dynamics into treatment plans and prescriptions.”

Development of this new science-based framework included nearly 20 collaborators from about a dozen organizations. The framework's recommendations are good for many aspects of the landscape, such as water quality, wildlife habitat and wildfire mitigation. The authors recognize the diversity of local landscapes and landownership patterns in the Front Range and that nature is constantly changing. They recommend monitoring to facilitate continual learning and improvement through time. This framework will be shared with private landowners and public land managers across the Front Range with the goal of creating a common baseline of knowledge for forest restoration.

Funding for this project was provided by the U.S. Forest Service. Collaborator organizations included the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station and Rocky Mountain Region, Colorado State University – Colorado Forest Restoration Institute and the Southern Rockies Fire Sciences Network, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, the U.S. Geological Survey, Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research, and Michigan Technological University.

Primary Author Contacts


Rob Addington, The Nature Conservancy



Mike Battaglia, USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station


Tony Cheng, Colorado Forest Restoration Institute at Colorado State University


Jonas Feinstein, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service


Greg Aplet, The Wilderness Society

Related Publications

Addington, Robert N. ; Aplet, Gregory H. ; Battaglia, Mike A. ; Briggs, Jennifer S. ; Brown, Peter M. ; Cheng, Antony S. ; Dickinson, Yvette ; Feinstein, Jonas A. ; Pelz, Kristen A. ; Regan, Claudia M. ; Thinnes, Jim ; Truex, Rick ; Fornwalt, Paula J. ; Gannon, Benjamin ; Julian, Chad W. ; Underhill, Jeffrey L. ; Wolk, Brett , 2018


The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) is one of seven units within the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development. RMRS maintains 14 field laboratories throughout a 12-state territory encompassing parts of the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains. RMRS also administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges and watersheds and maintains long-term research databases for these areas. While anchored in the geography of the West our research is global in scale. To find out more about the RMRS go to You can also follow us on Twitter at




USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.

Jennifer Hayes
Public Affairs Specialist