You are here

Paula J. Fornwalt

Research Ecologist

Research Ecologist

240 West Prospect Road
Fort Collins, CO 80526
Contact Paula J. Fornwalt

Current Research

(1) Examine the impacts of wildfire and postfire rehabilitation activities on forest overstory and understory composition and structure; (2) Clarify how, when, and why overstory and understory plant communities change as a result of ongoing insect and disease epidemics; (3) Investigate the impacts of forest management activities (e.g., slash pile burning, salvage logging) on native and exotic plants

Research Interests

My research activities address the impacts of natural and human disturbances on plant populations and communities in Rocky Mountain forests.


  • University of Delaware, Newark, DE, B.S., Environmental Science, 1996
  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, M.S., Forest Sciences, 1999
  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, Ph.D., Ecology, 2009
  • Professional Experience

    Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, CO
    2010 to present

    Ecologist, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, CO
    2002 to 2010

    Biological Science Technician, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, CO
    1999 to 2002


    Stevens, Jens T.; Miller, Jesse E. D.; Fornwalt, Paula J., 2019. Fire severity and changing composition of forest understory plant communities
    Brown, Peter M.; Gannon, Benjamin; Battaglia, Mike A.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Cheng, Antony S.; Baggett, Scott, 2019. Identifying old trees to inform ecological restoration in montane forests of the central Rocky Mountains, USA
    Korb, Julie E.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Stevens-Rumann, Camille S., 2019. What drives ponderosa pine regeneration following wildfire in the western United States?
    Battaglia, Mike A.; Gannon, Benjamin; Brown, Peter M.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Cheng, Antony S.; Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh, 2018. Changes in forest structure since 1860 in ponderosa pine dominated forests in the Colorado and Wyoming Front Range, USA
    Cannon, Jeffery B.; Barrett, Kevin J.; Gannon, Benjamin M.; Addington, Robert N.; Battaglia, Mike A.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Aplet, Gregory H.; Cheng, Antony S.; Underhill, Jeffrey L.; Briggs, Jennifer S.; Brown, Peter M., 2018. Collaborative restoration effects on forest structure in ponderosa pine-dominated forests of Colorado
    Malone, Sparkle L.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Battaglia, Mike A.; Chambers, Marin E.; Iniguez, Jose; Sieg, Carolyn H., 2018. Mixed-severity fire fosters heterogeneous spatial patterns of conifer regeneration in a dry conifer forest
    Rhoades, Charles C.; Pelz, Kristen A.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Wolk, Brett H.; Cheng, Antony S., 2018. Overlapping bark beetle outbreaks, salvage logging and wildfire restructure a lodgepole pine ecosystem
    Fornwalt, Paula J.; Stevens-Rumann, Camille S.; Collins, Byron J., 2018. Overstory structure and surface cover dynamics in the decade following the Hayman Fire, Colorado
    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. Principles and practices for the restoration of ponderosa pine and dry mixed-conifer forests of the Colorado Front Range
    Fornwalt, Paula J.; Rhoades, Charles C.; Hubbard, Robert M.; Harris, Rebecca L.; Faist, Akasha M.; Bowman, William D., 2018. Short-term understory plant community responses to salvage logging in beetle-affected lodgepole pine forests
    Fornwalt, Paula J.; Rocca, Monique E.; Battaglia, Mike A.; Rhoades, Charles C.; Ryan, Michael G., 2017. Mulching fuels treatments promote understory plant communities in three Colorado, USA, coniferous forest types
    Owen, Suzanne M.; Sieg, Carolyn H.; Meador, Andrew J. Sanchez.; Fule, Peter Z.; Iniguez, Jose; Baggett, Scott; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Battaglia, Mike A., 2017. Spatial patterns of ponderosa pine regeneration in high-severity burn patches
    Ziegler, Justin P.; Hoffman, Chad M.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Sieg, Carolyn H.; Battaglia, Mike A.; Chambers, Marin E.; Iniguez, Jose, 2017. Tree regeneration spatial patterns in ponderosa pine forests following stand-replacing fire: Influence of topography and neighbors
    Foster, Adrianna C.; Shuman, Jacquelyn K.; Shugart, Herman H.; Dwire, Kathleen A.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Sibold, Jason; Negron, Jose, 2017. Validation and application of a forest gap model to the southern Rocky Mountains
    Fornwalt, Paula J.; Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Alton, Steven; Kaufmann, Merrill R.; Brown, Peter M.; Cheng, Antony S., 2016. Did the 2002 Hayman Fire, Colorado, USA, burn with uncharacteristic severity?
    Chambers, Marin E.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Malone, Sparkle L.; Battaglia, Mike A., 2016. Patterns of conifer regeneration following high severity wildfire in ponderosa pine - dominated forests of the Colorado Front Range
    Brown, Peter M.; Battaglia, Mike A.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Gannon, Benjamin; Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Julian, Chad; Cheng, Antony S., 2015. Historical (1860) forest structure in ponderosa pine forests of the northern Front Range, Colorado
    Rhoades, Charles C.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Paschke, Mark W.; Shanklin, Amber; Jonas, Jayne L., 2015. Recovery of small pile burn scars in conifer forests of the Colorado Front Range
    Dickinson, Yvette L.; Addington, Rob; Aplet, Greg; Babler, Mike; Battaglia, Mike A.; Brown, Peter; Cheng, Tony; Cooley, Casey; Edwards, Dick; Feinstein, Jonas; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Gibbs, Hal; Matonis, Megan; Pelz, Kristen A.; Regan, Claudia, 2014. Desirable forest structures for a restored Front Range
    Ortega, J.; Turnipseed, A.; Guenther, A. B.; Karl, T. G.; Day, D. A.; Gochis, D.; Huffman, J. A.; Prenni, A. J.; Levin, E. J. T.; Kreidenweis, S. M.; DeMott, P. J.; Tobo, Y.; Patton, E. G.; Hodzic, A.; Cui, Y. Y.; Harley, P. C.; Hornbrook, R. S.; Apel, E. C.; Monson, R. K.; Eller, A. S. D.; Greenberg, J. P.; Barth, M. C.; Campuzano-Jost, P.; Palm, B. B.; Jimenez, J. L.; Aiken, A. C.; Dubey, M. K.; Geron, C.; Offenberg, J.; Ryan, Michael G.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Pryor, S. C.; Keutsch, F. N.; DiGangi, J. P.; Chan, A. W. H.; Goldstein, A. H.; Wolfe, G. M.; Kim, S.; Kaser, L.; Schnitzhofer, R.; Hansel, A.; Cantrell, C. A.; Mauldin, R. L.; Smith, J. N., 2014. Overview of the Manitou Experimental Forest Observatory: Site description and selected science results from 2008 to 2013
    Fornwalt, Paula J., 2013. Invasive Species Science Update (No. 6)
    Fornwalt, Paula J.; Kaufmann, Merrill R.; Stohlgren, Thomas J., 2010. Impacts of mixed severity wildfire on exotic plants in a Colorado ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir forest
    Fornwalt, Paula J.; Kaufmann, Merrill R.; Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh, 2009. Effects of past logging and grazing on understory plant communities in a montane Colorado forest
    Binkley, Dan; Kashian, Daniel M.; Boyden, Suzanne; Kaye, Margot W.; Bradford, John B.; Arthur, Mary A.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Ryan, Michael G., 2006. Patterns of growth dominance in forests of the Rocky Mountains, USA
    Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Kaufmann, Merrill R.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Stoker, Jason M.; Dennis, Chuck, 2003. Field guide to old ponderosa pines in the Colorado Front Range
    Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Kaufmann, Merrill R.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Stoker, Jason M.; Dennis, Chuck, 2003. Identification and ecology of old ponderosa pine trees in the Colorado Front Range
    Fornwalt, Paula J.; Kaufmann, Merrill R.; Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Stoker, Jason M.; Stohlgren, Thomas J., 2003. Non-native plant invasions in managed and protected ponderosa pine/Douglas-fir forests of the Colorado Front Range
    Fornwalt, Paula J.; Kaufmann, Merrill R.; Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Stoker, Jason M., 2002. Using the Forest Vegetation Simulator to reconstruct historical stand conditions in the Colorado Front Range
    Kaufmann, Merrill R.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Stoker, Jason M., 2001. Cheesman Lake-a historical ponderosa pine landscape guiding restoration in the South Platte Watershed of the Colorado Front Range
    Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Kaufmann, Merrill R.; Stoker, Jason M.; Fornwalt, Paula J., 2001. Landscape patterns of montane forest age structure relative to fire history at Cheesman Lake in the Colorado Front Range
    Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) treatment implementation on the Pike-San Isabel National Forest, Colorado.
    New novel study expands the scope of monitoring efforts in one of the first USDA Forest Service Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) landscapes, Colorado’s Front Range. Results from this study highlight both the effective aspects of restoration treatments, and the importance of initiating and continuing collaborative science-based monitoring to improve the outcomes of forest restoration efforts.  
    Mulched stands at a ponderosa pine – Douglas-fir study area, 6–9 years post-treatment.
    Mulching fuels treatments have been increasingly implemented by forest managers in the western USA to reduce crown fire hazard. These treatments use heavy machinery to masticate or chip unwanted shrubs and small-diameter trees and broadcast the mulched material on the ground. Because mulching treatments are relatively novel and have no natural analog, their ecological impacts are poorly understood.  
    Figure 1. A post-fire ponderosa pine seedling in a high-severity burn patch of the 2000 Pumpkin Fire, Arizona.
    Over the past three decades, wildfires in southwestern United States ponderosa pine forests have increased in size and severity, leaving large patches of tree mortality. Ponderosa pine evolved under fire regimes dominated by low- to moderate-severity wildfires, and they are poorly adapted to regenerating in large patches of high-severity fire. There is concern about these high-severity burn patches because the lack of seed-producing trees can prevent or significantly delay ponderosa pine regeneration.
    A post-fire ponderosa pine seedling stands alone in a severely burned portion of the 2002 Hayman Fire, Colorado. (File name: fornwalt spotlight 2016 post-fire tree regeneration
    Wildfire is an important disturbance in ponderosa pine forests of the southern Rocky Mountains, but the past two decades have witnessed fires of increased severity. The severely burned portions of these fires are generating concern about forest resilience, as there is uncertainty about ponderosa pine’s ability to regenerate in areas where no surviving trees remain.
    The Cheesman Lake landscape 13 years following the 2002 Hayman Fire. Living trees are apparent only adjacent to Cheesman Lake. Photograph by P.M. Brown.
    In 2002, the Hayman Fire burned across the unlogged Cheesman Lake landscape, a 3,400 hectare dry-conifer forest landscape in Colorado that had been the subject of previous fire history and forest structure research. We opportunistically leveraged pre-existing fire history and forest structure to provide insight into whether the Hayman Fire burned more severely than historical ones.
    Many of today’s fires in Colorado Front Range forests (ponderosa pine/ Douglas-fir) are burning more severely than they did historically, and some people are concerned that burned understory plant communities will not recover without intervention. In 2002, Colorado’s Hayman Fire burned research plots used to sample understory plant communities, providing an opportunity to address these concerns. We found that burning promoted diverse and productive native understory communities, even in severely burned areas, suggesting that concerns may be unwarranted.
    Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment in Support of Front Range National Forests and Colorado National Grasslands for Forest Plan Revision, Plan Amendments, and Project-Level Planning.
    Wildfire has long been an important and complex disturbance agent in forests dominated by ponderosa pine in the western United States. However, many recent fires have burned with increased severity across large, contiguous areas, resulting in vast expanses with no surviving overstory trees. Researchers are looking at regeneration rates inponderosa pine forests after high-severity fires and examining the spatial patterns and environmental conditions in affected areas to help managers anticipate natural recovery and plan for post-fire management activities.
    Forest disturbance reconstructions provide a valuable record of factors leading up to change or stabilization in forest stands. Reconstructions in Colorado usually focus on fire effects, although a few have recorded beetle disturbances. Examining the evidence left by bark beetle disturbance and understanding interactions between insect disturbances and climate events may help guide management of post-disturbance forests.
    Fire managers have increased their use of mastication, the on-site disposal of shrubs and small-diameter trees through chipping and shredding, a practice that alters the chemical and physical conditions of the forest floor and may influence vegetation regrowth for years or decades. We evaluated a network of 18 masticated sites to assess the effects of mastication treatments on plants and soils, and convey how these effects vary over time.
    The development of ecological restoration treatment prescriptions based on historical forest structure is needed to inform management activities within the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) and other restoration efforts. Our goal is to provide managers with locally derived, historically realistic, and climatically sustainable targets for desired future stand and landscape conditions for the Colorado Front Range and South Dakota Black Hills. 
    Many of today’s fires in ponderosa pine dominated forests are burning more severely than historical ones, generating concern that understory plant communities will not recover without intervention.  There are also concerns that fires will facilitate the establishment and spread of non-native species.  In 2002, Colorado’s Hayman Fire burned pre-existing understory vegetation plots and provided an opportunity to address these concerns. 
    Numerous factors influence the establishment and growth of tree seedlings after high-severity wildfires. Understanding spatial patterns and environmental conditions influencing ponderosa pine and aspen regeneration post-wildfire can help managers monitor natural recovery.