With $5 million for improvements coming, Colorado State Forest Service Nursery eyes what it could become

PolisCSUNursery Aug2022 5

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (right) recently toured the Colorado State Forest Service Nursery, which is about to receive some major upgrades thanks to $5 million allocated by the Colorado Legislature. Photo by Hannah Tran

Healing land scarred by wildfire in Colorado and throughout the West begins in an aging nursery facility tucked against the foothills where the Colorado State Forest Service annually grows hundreds of thousands of tree seedlings.

The Colorado State Forest Service Nursery is due for major upgrades in the next two years thanks to $5 million allocated by the Colorado Legislature, boosting the state’s ability to reforest burned areas and stabilize its watersheds. Gov. Jared Polis toured the facility Aug. 31 to see firsthand where investments are needed most.

“We’re excited to see some major new investments here,” Polis said. “We need the production to help Colorado recover from major fires and this facility, as it is now, is maxed out.”

Polis was joined by Interim President Rick Miranda, Warner College of Natural Resources Dean Alonso Aguirre, Colorado State Forester and CSFS Director Matt McCombs, and nursery and other CSFS staff to tour through greenhouses and other facilities that are well past their prime.

Polis greeted student employees carefully weeding cells of ponderosa trees to be placed outside to mature. The greenhouses’ antiquated ventilation system draw in weed seeds from outside, making weeding a critical step in the production process. Modernizing ventilation, improving irrigation, and upgrading structures to protect seedlings are all on the list thanks to House Bill 22-1323 that prescribes updates to the nursery (https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb22-1323). Polis signed the bill into law in June.

“We’re enormously grateful for the State of Colorado’s support for this critical facility,” Miranda said. “This investment comes at a time when the need for these seedlings across Colorado is great – they’re a fundamental part of statewide reforestation efforts. The activities at our tree nursery also illustrates the importance of the overall Forest Service to CSU as well, with educational and experiential opportunities for our students, and research relationships with our faculty, that are essential to the work of the Colorado State Forest Service.”

Photo by Hannah Tran

The facility opened in 1957 and is held together with spot fixes and ingenuity. Upgrading and expanding the greenhouses and shade houses would allow the CSFS Nursery to double its annual production of seedling trees that are in high demand to restore and protect critical watersheds after wildfire and flood events on Colorado’s forests.

CSFS is currently conducting a needs assessment. Upgrades will take about two years to complete with the most critical investments coming first. McCombs noted the many positive outcomes that will come from the state’s investment.

“Hosting Governor Polis, Interim President Miranda and Dean Aguirre at the Colorado State Forest Service Nursery was an excellent opportunity to highlight this important resource for the forests and people of Colorado,” McCombs said. “Reforestation is critical for the future of our state and the demand 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 is rapidly expanding.”

For student worker Hattie Gilbert, imagining the potential upgrades helps bring her education full circle.

“Seeing this place, and what it could be, is heartwarming,” said Gilbert, a senior majoring in human dimensions and natural resource management. “It means a lot. What we’ve learned in our courses is that policy change is critical to fulfilling potential.”