The June 2012 High Park Fire burned over 87,000 acres of forest and 259 homes to the west of Fort Collins, CO. The fire has had dramatic impacts on forest ecosystems. Of particular concern are its effects on the Cache la Poudre watershed, as the Poudre River is one of the most important headwaters of the Colorado Front Range, providing important ecosystem and economic services before flowing into the South Platte, which in turn flows into the Missouri River. Within a week of the fire, the area received several days of torrential rains. This precipitation—in conjunction with steep riverbanks and the loss of vegetation by fire—caused soil and ash runoff to be deposited into the Poudre’s channel, resulting in a river of choking mud and black sludge. Monitoring the effects of this disaster is critical and requires establishing immediate baseline data to assess impacts over time. Utilizing LANDSAT imagery, GIS layers, and boosted regression trees modeling, the NASA DEVELOP team based at the North Central Climate Science Center at Colorado State University conducted an investigation into riparian, wetland and headwaters modeling within the Cache la Poudre watershed. These efforts produced a preliminary model of predicted wetlands across the watershed, which is currently being refined by field data collection and modeling within three elevation-based “life zones.” The ultimate goal of this ongoing project is to provide important spatial data for land managers and create a riparian and wetlands modeling methodology that can be reproduced throughout the intermountain west region.
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