Invasive plants crowding out natives as vegetation returns to Waldo Canyon

Mike Duran - FOX21 News
Mike Duran - FOX21 News

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — It has been almost four years since the Waldo Canyon fire ripped through the west side of Colorado Springs. This massive fire burned nearly everything in its path. Since then, vegetation has started to grow again in the area.

“Native grasses start out and we’ve seen those come back, in areas that had a lower burn intensity, hillside stabilization and re-seeding operations,” Rocky Mountain Field Institute’s Andy Riter said.

In the coming years, one of the biggest challenges is going to be getting the trees to grow and stabilize the slopes around the canyons.

“Fire adaptive plants, Aspen and Gambel oaks. They were popping up the fall after the fire happened,” Riter said.

We know that pines and firs are what everyone sees when they look up at the range. They’re not sprouting up just yet. In this natural succession, they come later on.

The grasses are good to have up there because they stabilize the soil.

“They re-introduce organic matter all the firs and the pines need once they start to establish.“ Ritter said.

As the re-growth continues, trees and other plants will have to battle for space. Native plants also have to fight off many invaders, including one from Russia called cheat grass.

“I’m not sure where the cheat grass came in on this one. Cheats the nutrition out of soil and it turns and it heads out. It’s a big fire danger because it is easy to catch. This is the first place I’ve seen it and I hope the only place I see it.” Theresa Springer, Waldo Canyon Fire Recovery Coordinator for the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, said.

Another challenge in the revitalization efforts is staying ahead of other nasty plants that are taking root as the seed from yards around the city.

“Myrtle spurge, you’re seeing it a lot around Colorado Springs and forest service around Colorado Springs,” Springer said. “That is a tough one. It has a latex to it. It’s an invader, has huge root system. It can easily take over and that’s an ornamental that came over and escaped from gardens. People are allergic to latex, so is it’s also a dangerous invader.”

Most of the growth process will take a least another four years to complete, but the re-forestation process that will make the forest look the way it did before the Waldo Canyon fire is going to take decades.

“If you want to see the trees we had before the fire, you can probably expect 80 to 100 years before we have similar trees up there,“ Riter said.

On Saturday, May 21, the El Paso County Bar Association will host a tree planting project to help in the revegetation process of the area affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire. For more details, visit our story here.

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