Big Thompson River

Partnering Up to Protect the Big Thompson Watershed

Big Thompson Initiative Partner Profile and Projects

Peaks to People and Big Thompson Conservation District (BTCD) have been collaboratively working together on forest health projects since 2017. As our organizations have developed and grown so has our partnership. Like Peaks to People, BTCD is also working to improve water quality by restoring forest health and protecting infrastructure in the Big Thompson watershed.

Using historical stand reconstruction data from the 1860’s/ pre-European settlement as their historic reference condition for the Big Thompson watershed, BTCD uses science to read the landscape and their management objective focuses on the ecosystem as a whole.

The Conservation District supports the local economy by bringing in local contractors to conduct mechanized logging. Matt Marshall, Forest Program Director for the BTCD explains, “It’s intensive to do heavy thinning on private land so the district partners with Larimer County Weed District and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to protect properties from invasive weeds and to restore wildlife habitat.”

In addition to mechanical thinning on forested land, the district plans to complete chemical cheatgrass controls within project areas of Estes Park and Loveland.  Along with forestry and noxious weed treatments, BTCD  is currently working on multiple riparian restoration projects across Larimer County. The primary source of funding for BTCD is through the Natural Resource Conservation Services’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (NRCS EQIP) which aims to reduce the financial burden for private landowners while increasing the scale of work the district can accomplish.

Unfortunately, EQIP funds are not enough to get the team at BTCD to the landscape scale they need to make BIG change.  That is where Peaks to People and other Big Thompson Initiative partners, such as The Nature Conservancy and Northern Water, come in. “We do receive additional funds from the USFS Joint Chiefs agreement, but Peaks to People funding has really helped us grow our program by increasing the number and size of projects we can do,” said Marshall. “This has in turn allowed local logging contractors to hire additional help and purchase equipment which is increasing capacity. Not only does Peaks to People help the district with much needed funding but they are also helping us to prioritize our projects through the use of their Watershed Investment Tool.”

Peaks to People is equally happy to be working with the team at the Big Thompson Conservation District and sharing our valuable resources. Together we are helping each other meet our combined goals.

To date Peaks to People has funded four BTCD projects for a total of $210,000 with an agreement for a fifth project currently being developed.

Pole Hill Project Before and After
Image Credit: BTCD

Pole Hill Phase II – This 250-acre project is located in the headwaters of Cottonwood Creek which drains to the Big Thompson and builds on past and planned fuel treatments in the area. The area required heavy tree thinning to restore the forests to a healthy composition and structure. Two new logging contractors were formed as a result of this project, creating 10 new jobs leading to renewed logging resources in the region and providing a boost to the local economy. Landowners are excited to be seeing the benefits of the work being done in the area. As such, five new community landowners have signed agreements to have thinning work done on their land as part of Pole Hill Phase III, adding an additional 150 acres to the project area for a combined total of almost 400 acres restored to a healthier, more fire-resistant state in the area.

Peaks to People provided $100,000 for Phase II of the Pole Hill project and will be providing an additional $50,000 to fund Phase III. Phase II Co-funders include Big Thompson Initiative partners Northern Water and the Colorado State Forest Service. Funds for Phase II also came from the Natural Resource Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). “Pole Hill is a great example of leveraging funds from multiple sources and partners to increase the amount of acreage being restored to a healthier state,” Rob Addington, Forest Program Director at The Colorado Nature Conservancy. The Colorado Forest Restoration Institute will conduct pre and post treatment monitoring to evaluate results.  Targeted Performance Measures, additional photos and more information about this project can be found in our Watershed Health Outcomes Tracker Pole Hill Phase II Project Fact Sheet.

Husted Ranch Project
Image Credit: BTCD

Husted Ranch – In addition to the Pole Hill Phases II and III projects, we are also providing $59,000 for work on Husted Ranch in the Big Thompson watershed. EQIP funds covered approximately 150 acres of work. By leveraging partner funds BTCD has been able to increase the project size to 250 acres. Similar to Pole Hill, this area has experienced a drastic shift from historical conditions. Species compositions have shifted from Ponderosa Pine to Douglas-Fir & forest densities have greatly increased. The project area has also experienced Mountain Pine Beetle and mistletoe outbreaks which have adversely affected forest health. Mechanical thinning is being implemented on approximately 195 acres of forested lands to restore the functionality and vigor of the forest and reduce the effects of severe wildfire on the Dry Gulch/Lake Estes drainage. We look forward to seeing the positive impacts their work will have on fire behavior in this area! Targeted Performance Measures, additional photos and more information about this project can be found in our Watershed Health Outcomes Tracker Husted Ranch Project Fact Sheet.

Cheley Camps Project
Image Credit: BTCD

Cheley Camp – Peaks to People is providing $10,000 in funds for this project which consists of forest restoration treatments on 2-separate tracts of land. The main treatment consists of three treatment units comprising 80-acres. Located within the Lake Estes drainage, this project aims to restore functionality and vigor of the forest and reduce the effects of severe wildfire. The secondary treatment will consist of one 15-acre treatment unit located within the Fox Creek drainage, adjacent to the town of Glen Haven. The goals with this project reflect those of the treatment on the main property. Targeted Performance Measures, additional photos and more information about this project can be found in our Watershed Health Outcomes Tracker Cheley Forest Restoration Project Fact Sheet.

Big Thompson Conservation District has a lot more work planned in Northern Colorado. Peaks to People will be there to support and promote their important mission and valuable contribution to conservation, wildfire mitigation, and wildlife and watershed protection. Our collaboration is a winning combination!