The Centennial State is no stranger to wildfires - during the last decade alone, northern Colorado has seen several blaze through the region, including the Cameron Peak Fire, and even more recently, residents near Boulder experienced the devastation of the Marshall Fire.

No doubt are these fires frightening and destructive, scorching hundreds of acres of land and burning the homes of both people and animals in their path, but they're also a very necessary part of nature and essential to the forest's ecosystem.

The beneficial and helpful side to forest fires isn't the story that's typically told, as the destruction rightfully tends to take center stage, but Fireforest aims to change that.

The long-term multimedia project has several goals, with one main focus being to increase the resiliency of Colorado's forests. Forests do have the natural ability to recover from disasters such as fires, but sometimes they need a little human help. In addition to building support for forest restoration, project creator and Fort Collins resident, Evan Barrientos, hopes to improve Coloradans' overall understanding of fire ecology.

Through the use of video and photo footage, Fireforest gives a glimpse of fire restoration in action. Besides showing how fires can be both helpful and harmful, the project illustrates the connections between fire, water, and restoration. The various forms of media that Barrientos uses provide examples of what fire restoration looks like and why it's needed, especially in northern Colorado. Although we hear about thousands of acres burning when megafires do occur, the reality is that wildfires leave much of the forest only lightly burnt or unburnt at all. Furthermore, much of the forest that does burn returns healthier than before but this story is almost never told either.

Much of the forest restoration process is field-focused. Researchers and conservationists visit forests in the area to do things like measure/check the age of trees, take data and mark trees they want to stay and those that should be cut down, and document fire scars. Conservationists explain that there are currently way too many trees for the forest to be healthy, and they take up valuable resources such as water. It's not that they don't love trees, but sometimes too much of a good thing can be a problem - in this case, it affects the undercanopy, and can stifle the growth of over plants or prevent creatures from getting their food. The researchers also look for clues as to how the forest might have appeared 150 years ago so that they can attempt to restore the region to this healthy state of being. Then, other crews, like logging contractors, come in to do their part, of removing or thinning trees, for example. Much of what's being done within the forests is preventative maintenance too.

Fireforest has lots of moving parts, with several different groups and local agencies lending their resources and assisting towards the end goal.

Jake Marlow, the Outreach and Community Engagement Specialist for Big Thompson and Fort Collins Conservation Districts, explained that one of the biggest ways that locals can support forestry efforts in the area is by simply educating themselves. Marlow and Barrientos also noted that residents can make a difference by voting for individuals and policies that support and fund forest restoration projects. Fireforest advocates for the urgent need to conduct forest and watershed restoration on a large scale in northern Colorado.

2020 Cameron Peak Fire