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Putting Colorado’s benchmark 2020 fire season into perspective at event Thursday

Naturalist Night’s presentation will dive into evidence

Staff report
Flames can be seen through billowing smoke from the Grizzly Creek Fire on Monday, August 24, 2020. The Grizzly Creek Fire was part of Colorado’s record-setting fire season. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Colorado experienced a record-setting fire season in 2020 with the three largest recorded wildfires sweeping through the state.

The situation might be the new normal for Colorado because of drought, climate change and increasing development on the edge of forests, according to experts.

Three local conservation groups are bringing in a top wildfire researcher Thursday night for a presentation on wildfires via Zoom and Facebook. Philip Higuera, an associate professor at the University of Montana, will put the 2020 fire season into long-term perspective gained from paleoecological records of climate, fire and forest history in Colorado subalpine forests over the past 6,000 years.



Higuera said he would sort out what is business as usual and what aspects are unprecedented.

“Colorado’s 2020 fire season kind of provides the opportunity to have this conversation about changing wildfire activity, climate change, what it means for humans and ecosystems,” Higuera told The Aspen Times in an interview this week.




For Higuera, the presentation will be a homecoming of sorts. He was a naturalist at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies in summer 1999.

“I wish I was physically coming back, but hopefully we’ll figure that out in the after times at some point,” he said in reference to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Naturalist Nights has been a popular speaker series hosted for years by Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Wilderness Workshop and Roaring Fork Audubon. It went virtual this winter due to social distancing requirements.

The Thursday presentation is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is required at http://www.aspennature.org.

Higuera currently directs the PaleoEcology Lab and Fire Ecology Lab at the University of Montana. He is eager to share his knowledge with the Aspen audience.

“It’s exciting for me to be able to connect research that I’ve been involved in for over a decade and a longstanding interest and curiosity in subalpine forests in general,” he said.


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