Marshall Fire Recovery Efforts and MHFD’s Vegetation Management Approach

Marshall Fire Recovery Efforts and MHFD’s Vegetation Management Approach Background Image
January 20, 2022

Marshall Fire Recovery Efforts 

Mile High Flood District expresses our sympathy for everyone affected by the Marshall Fire of December 2021, particularly the families of those who perished or were injured and the residents who had only moments to flee before their homes and possessions were lost. While wildfires are a recognized danger in the Front Range’s semi-arid climate, the Marshall Fire was caused by an unprecedented confluence of a wet spring, extreme summer and winter drought, and hurricane-force winds. A similarly unprecedented team of local, state, and federal organizations has come together to assist the citizens of Boulder County, Superior, and Louisville with recovering from the tragedy. 

We stand with and support our local government partners and communities as they evaluate damage and begin the recovery process. Several of the stream systems that MHFD assists Louisville and Superior in maintaining were directly affected by the fire, including parts of Coal Creek and Rock Creek. In these areas and others as requested, MHFD will perform debris and tree removal and install erosion control and water quality protection measures to minimize flood risk and protect stream ecosystems. We will  work closely with Boulder County, Louisville, and Superior as the recovery framework is put into place and completed. We will also partner on efforts that follow recovery to understand longer-term impacts of the fire as it relates to flood risk and stream function. With a close tie between vegetation management and mitigating fire hazards, we want to take this opportunity to provide additional information on our approach to vegetation management and how it relates to fire hazards. 

 

MHFD Vegetation Management Approach 

-Healthy native vegetation plays a primary role in stabilizing and protecting the network of floodplains, streams, and drainageways that convey flood water through our communities. It is the main defense against soil and bank erosion from runoff after small and large storms. Native grass, shrub, and tree roots help anchor the soil into place and provide a wide variety of ecological and human services such as protecting water quality, controlling erosion, and attenuating floods. Additionally, healthy native vegetation supports a diverse ecosystem that supports butterflies and bees, songbirds, frogs, fish, and other wildlife by providing food, shelter, and nurseries for their young.

-In recognition of the importance of healthy native vegetation in carrying out our mission to protect people, property, and our environment, MHFD performs a variety of vegetation management activities within MHFD boundaries. Our management activities include trash and woody debris removal; vegetation management, including weed control; tree and shrub removal and thinning; and strategic mowing, including buffers along residential property lines, sidewalks, and paths.

-Vegetation management plays an important role in the protection of our stream networks. The District strives to balance the environmental and ecological health of these systems by preserving riparian vegetation including native grasses, trees, and shrubs. Our weed management program strives to remove invasive, non-native weeds and trees which helps to reduce the overall fire risk. Our treatment methods include both selective herbicide application as well as strategic mowing to help control and eliminate invasive weeds.

-All MHFD vegetation management practices are either requested by our local government partners or proposed by MHFD and reviewed and approved by them. Generally, MHFD vegetation management mirrors that of the greenbelt and open-space management of local governments. 

 

Vegetation Management Approach and Fire Fuel Mitigation 

-Many MHFD vegetation management practices are consistent with wildfire mitigation practices. For example, to maintain flood conveyance capacity in our streams and floodplains, MHFD does major tree and shrub thinning in coordination with local governments. We also work with local governments to remove trees that represent a specific flood hazard or are a danger to the public. Removing excess woody material in the riparian corridors reduces fire fuel load in our riparian corridors.

-Managing to support healthy native vegetation, including limited mowing, generally increases soil moisture and reduces standing dead weeds, which reduces fire intensity and speeds recovery.

-In recognition of public safety, we provide buffer mowing, with local government approval, along private property fence-lines, sidewalks, maintenance trails, or other places in our easements at the request of local governments. In general, our vegetation management practices mirror the greenbelt and open-space practices of local governments.

-MHFD and our local government partners continually review and update our vegetation management practices, staying current with local government needs, regulatory requirements, and ecological best practices.  

 

In summary, MHFD balances various public safety risks in the metro area, with a primary focus on addressing risks from floods, including the risk of flood damage from poor vegetation cover.  We rely on our local government partners to share their expertise on other risks to our streams and riparian areas, including wildfire. MHFD continually reviews and updates our vegetation management approach and will take into account lessons learned from the Marshall Fire. 

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