State funding boosts seedling tree nursery, growing its capacity for wildfire response

Polis and Parsons at nursery

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, right, visits the Colorado State Forest Service seedling tree nursery with Rep. Tammy Story of Jefferson County, left, and Colorado State University President Amy Parsons on May 15. At the nursery, Polis signed a bill co-sponsored by Story, which allocates $5.3 million for improvements and expansion of the tree nursery on the CSU Foothills Campus. The new state funding adds to $5 million allocated to the nursery in 2022. Photo by Field Peterson/CSFS

A Colorado State University tree nursery will more than quadruple production of seedlings to conserve and reforest Western landscapes – many scarred by wildfire – after $10.3 million in allocations recently approved by the Colorado Legislature.

The Colorado State Forest Service is using the funds, designated during the 2022 and 2023 legislative sessions, to modernize aging infrastructure and facilities at its seedling tree nursery on the CSU Foothills Campus in Fort Collins. The nursery includes 130 acres of fields and greenhouses, with related irrigation, equipment and structures.

Gov. Jared Polis visited the nursery on May 15 to sign the second of two funding bills.

Tree seedlings
Ponderosa pine seedlings grow at the tree nursery on the CSU Foothills Campus. Recent allocations of $10.3 million in state funding will allow the nursery to greatly increase capacity, from 500,000 to more than 2 million seedlings grown annually for conservation and reforestation of Western landscapes. Photo by Field Peterson/CSFS

“The Colorado State tree nursery is really the hub for the entire state for this important work of forest health,” Polis said.

This year, the nursery will raise 500,000 tree seedlings, including ponderosa pine, blue spruce and Rocky Mountain juniper. Nursery improvements are expected to be complete by summer 2025 and will allow the site to grow 2 million seedlings per year – with gradual increases beyond that, said Scott Godwin, nursery manager.

All the nursery’s tree seedlings are used for conservation and reforestation projects in Colorado and surrounding states, Godwin said. The number used specifically for reforestation after wildfire is rising as fires scorch Western woodlands, often fueled by drought, beetle-killed trees and climate change. In these and other cases, reforestation is critical for healthy ecosystems, erosion control and clean water, among other benefits.

“Reforestation is critical for the future of our state, and the demand is rapidly expanding for nursery-grown seedling trees and shrubs to reforest burned areas, to build climate-resilient watersheds and forests, and to enhance carbon storage to meet the state’s climate mitigation goals,” said Matt McCombs, director of the Colorado State Forest Service.

During a visit last year, Polis said he anticipates that the seedling tree nursery will develop a greater role in wildfire recovery.

“We’re excited to see some major new investments here,” he said. “We need the increased production to help Colorado recover from major fires.”

The Colorado State Forest Service is a service and outreach agency of the Warner College of Natural Resources at CSU and provides staffing and technical expertise for the Division of Forestry within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. It has 17 field offices and is the lead state agency providing forest and timber management, surveys, public education and services for landowners.