Community Agriculture Alliance: Thank a tree |

Community Agriculture Alliance: Thank a tree

The next time you fill your glass with crystal clean, clear water, thank a tree.  Seriously, big bear hug even, bark and all, because that tree is playing an incredibly important role in providing you with clean water that is woefully under-recognized.

If you are hesitating on an awkward hug, let me convince you, healthy forests equal good water quality.  Tree roots anchor soil, reducing the risk of flooding and encouraging rainfall to seep through and enter the water table, from which many of our communities draw their water.  As water soaks downward, the roots also filter harmful substances out of the water.

Take a moment to also think about how important it might be to not only appreciate but make sure our forests are healthy for water quality’s sake.  Water isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.  The forested watersheds of Colorado are headwaters for rivers that flow through 19 states to provide water for downstream users. 

More than 24.4 million acres of native Colorado forestland impact water supply by protecting soil and preventing erosion, filtering contaminants, enhancing soil moisture storage and groundwater recharge, and reducing the likelihood of flooding by protecting and maintaining plant communities. 

Forest disturbances in these critical areas affect the waters that flow through them. Trees and water are closely linked so that when forests are unhealthy, water resources also suffer.

In June 2017, the Colorado State Forest Service published the report “Forest Management to Protect Colorado’s Water Resources.”  This report summarizes recent research documenting the effects of wildland fire, insect and disease outbreaks, changing climate, and roads and human disturbance on Colorado’s forests and water supplies as a supplement to the Colorado Water Plan. 

The report details how science-based forest management, employing best management practices, can reduce hazardous fuel levels to minimize catastrophic wildland fires, create forest stand conditions less susceptible to bark beetle infestations, and limit erosion and water quality impairment from forest harvesting, road building and road use.  Maintaining healthy forests will protect water quality.

In Colorado, the majority of forestland is either federally, 65.5 percent, or privately owned, 29.8 percent, so managing for forest health on a large scale must be done through partnerships.

One such partnership is the “From Forests to Faucets” program involving the USDA Forest Service, Denver Water, Colorado State Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. 

Projects include forest restoration and wildfire fuels reduction upstream of Denver Water’s reservoirs.  Another partnership encouraging cross-boundary management includes Good Neighbor Authority projects.  GNA agreements allow the USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management to work with state and private entities to accomplish watershed restoration and forest management across federal, state and private land boundaries.

The next time you look around at the forests surrounding our beautiful community, appreciate all that they do for our wild Yampa River and the waters far beneath our feet.  If you feel like you would like to do more than just appreciate our forests and rivers, get involved in some of our riparian restoration planting efforts this year through the ReTree program in partnership with YVSC.

For more information on managing your forest for water quality, or to read the report, visit or contact the Colorado State Forest Service Steamboat Springs Field Office at 970-879-0475 or

Kristin Mortenson works for Colorado State Forest Service.

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