Forested Watershed Research and Decision Support: a systems approach to enhance forest stewardship for fire resilient watersheds and communities

Forested watersheds provide a critical ecosystem service to many communities in the form of quality surface water. Wildland fires, through their effects on soil and vegetation, can dramatically alter the flow and quality of water, and can disrupt municipal water supply systems through landslides, debris flows, and sedimentation. Wildland fire is a major natural disturbance in semi-arid and temperate ecosystems throughout the world, especially in the Western U.S., where many communities rely on surface water originating in forested watersheds. There is growing interest from communities to include forest management in their source water protection plans, but our ability to predict and control the occurrence of large severe wildfires is limited, which consequently creates challenges when planning efforts aimed at mitigating the impacts of wildland fire on water resources.

FORWARD is a research and decision support center at Colorado State University bringing together faculty and research staff with expertise in forestry, wildland fire, watershed science, economics, spatial analysis, and systems modeling. We are currently working on basic science questions related to fuel treatment effectiveness and post-fire erosion, and we are developing a decision support tool to manage forests for watershed health.