Let’s jump into some major stories and the policy implications for two big stories that happened in April.  

Fire Season Begins  

Fire season forecasters are anticipating a normal year for Colorado wildfires through the summer. This prediction is based on average snowpack, slightly above-average temperatures, and below-average moisture conditions. A normal year, however, still translates to over 5,000 fires and 200,000 acres burned. Colorado is a climatologically diverse state. For example, southeastern Colorado and the San Luis Valley are experiencing drier conditions, and this could mean a higher number of fires this year. Early predictions for the fall are anticipating low monsoon moisture, and low rain will cause plants to dry out and become fuel for wildfires. The Colorado 2024 Wildfire Preparedness Plan states that while fires have always been part of the state’s natural ecosystems, drought, warmer temperatures, declining forest health, and an increasing number of homes in the wildland urban interface (WUI) have resulted in fires becoming a growing public safety concern. Nine of the 20 most destructive wildfires in Colorado have occurred since 2018, and all 20 of the largest fires have been since 2001.  

Colorado fire season officially began May 1 and lasts through September. But that doesn’t mean that wildfires are not a year-round presence for many. For example, in anticipation of the forecasted high winds in early April, Xcel Energy de-energized power lines to reduce the risk of causing a wildfire on a red flag day. This was the first preemptive cutting of power from the utility due to high winds.  In total, 55,000 customers lost power as part of this preemptive measure. Boulder County officials and others expressed concern that the communication over when and how many people would be impacted hampered the county’s ability to respond. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has launched an investigation into how Xcel handled the shutoffs. Following the windstorm, Xcel had to replace and repair over 107 poles and 12.6 miles of wire and cables.  

The heavy winds and preventative move by Xcel brought up questions and concerns about public safety, communications, timing, and best practices for preventing wildfires. There were two small fires that sparked during the April windstorm, and we know that large wind events are an element of critical fire weather, which cause massive destruction, especially in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). For example, in the December 2021 Marshall Fire, the sustained, hurricane-level winds, arid landscape, and warm temperatures set the stage for the costliest fire in Colorado history. The fire investigators found two causes for ignition: one was a human-started slash fire that was not properly extinguished and the second was linked to sparks from a power line that disconnected due to high winds 

While this April event was the first preemptive power shut-off in Colorado, California and Oregon have been de-energizing power lines to prevent wildfires for years. The tradeoffs between fire risk and a community's need for power are difficult decisions. The PUC is continuing to solicit public feedback on the outages, which will be used to determine if new regulatory approaches are needed.  

For more on Colorado wildfires, check out our Forest, Fires, and People five-part series. 


Wolf Reintroduction  

We wrote about the grey wolf reintroduction process in our March Roundup, and have an update. One of the newly introduced wolves has died, likely of natural causes, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the death as part of the Endangered Species Act. Another introduced wolf was linked to the deaths of four cows in Grand County. This wolf is likely the mate of a pregnant one and therefore protected, so it cannot be put down. The Wolf Restoration and Management Plan states that the species will be considered recovered when there are 200 wolves in the state across 25 packs. The birth of these pups is part of a self-sustaining repopulation effort because the plan only calls for the relocation of 30-50 wolves. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is allowed to evaluate the use of lethal control on a context-specific basis, but no action will be taken against the wolf at this time, according to a letter from CPW Director Jeff Davis. 

However, CPW is considering modifying the Plan to add a definition to quantitively define chronic depredation in the state later this summer.  

The legislative session ends in Colorado on May 8, so stay tuned for a special edition recap of some highlights. 

Thanks for reading. 



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