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Forest service highlights wildfire prevention after historic season

The Colorado State Forest Service focused on the impact of wildfires, and mitigation strategies, in its annual report on forest health.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) highlights suggestions for preventing wildfires in its annual report on the health of forests in the state.

The report focused on protecting forests by increasing forest management across the state, improving tree health to reduce carbon emissions and combating insects and disease.

> Video above from Dec. 2020: What can we learn for Colorado's historic wildfire season?

RELATED: Colorado looks to lease firefighting helicopter as part of legislation aimed at stopping wildfires before they grow

CSFS says Colorado is set to face wildfires similar to the massive blazes seen in 2020 if increasing forest management in the state is not prioritized.

"Colorado is primed to face the same types of uncharacteristic wildfires as last year unless an increase in the pace and scale of forest management is made a statewide priority, work is done more quickly and the buildup of beetle-killed and living fuels is addressed across the landscape in areas that can be accessed," the report says.

Colorado forests also emit more carbon than they store despite covering 24 million acres, which is contributing to the global problem of climate change, partly because trees are not as healthy as they should be, according to CSFS.

Complete wildfire coverage: 9news.com/wildfires.

Spruce beetles remain the most damaging forest pest in Colorado for the ninth year and may be a key contributor to the behavior of recent fires, along with other insects and diseases.

USFS says bark beetles have impacted many forests in the state for decades, altering the arrangement of wildfire fuels in many locations. Wildfire behavior can change drastically when burning in forests dense with beetle-killed trees, impacting its ecological effects and options available for fire managers.

"Since the mid-1990s, mountain pine beetle has affected roughly 80%, or about 3.4 million acres, of ponderosa-lodgepole pine in the state, while the spruce beetle has caused tree mortality in approximately 40% of Colorado’s high-elevation Engelmann spruce forests," the report says.

A map from CSFS highlights the overlap of 2020's wildfires and areas impacted by beetle kill.

CSFS also highlighted the importance of The Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grant Program, which provides funding to address forest health issues on a local level.

“Colorado’s forests are experiencing many challenges, from longer fire seasons to ongoing drought to more people living in the wildland-urban interface. In this report, we take a look at what is needed to protect the many benefits our forests provide in the face of these challenges – and what the Colorado State Forest Service is doing to address them," said Mike Lester, state forester and director of the CSFS. 

> The full report can be found on CSFS' website.

RELATED: How far away can wildfire embers start new fires?

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