As flames raged in the Ben Delatour Scout Ranch, Adrian Flygt and Killian Malone stand grinning in two inches of mid-December snow.
Flygt, a philosophy graduate student, held a basic propane flamethrower in his hands as he smiled.
But these students aren’t arsonists — quite the opposite. They’re members of the CSU Logging team.
Along with other CSU students and community members, they began an ongoing volunteer project for the Warner College of Natural Resources.
Out of the smoke, Ryan Staychock, head of the volunteer program, came trudging through the freshly fallen snow.
“You guys get everything?” he asks.
“Not yet, just getting warm,” Flygt said, as he and Malone, a sophomore natural resources major, stand by a pile of downed flaming trees, the blaze reaching 10 feet in the air.
The volunteers, or “VOLTZ,” as Staychock calls them, endure the nearly freezing temperatures and snow-covered ground to aide an ongoing statewide initiative to “clean up” Colorado’s poorly managed and now endangered forests.
Bob Sturtevant, extension forester of the WCNR, said years of forest mismanagement have inhibited the natural ecological cycle.
Increased firefighting to protect an increasing number of intermountain communities caused the wildfire danger to skyrocket over the last few years.
And too much firefighting can be a bad thing, Sturtevant said, because it stifles the natural burn process that thins the forest of dead foliage.
The bark beetle epidemic that is plaguing many of Colorado’s forests is also contributing to the problem, he said.
The situation “has come over Cameron Pass and into Pingree Park. We will start seeing massive areas affected over the next couple years,” Sturtevant said.
Anticipating future difficulties, BDSR began to work with CSU over a decade ago. And seeing an opportunity for field training, WCNR began recruiting students to do more of the work and help with the management.
The pile burnings are the last step in a year-round student-run management plan.
Staychock said when CSU’s Forestry Field practices students go to the ranch in the spring, they pick a small stand of trees and calculate how many of them must be cut down for the stand to survive in case of wildfire.
After the dead trees are down, student organizations, including CSU’s logging team and the Society of American Foresters, haul out the lumber to sell as firewood — their primary fundraiser.
Then, in the winter, the organizations go back up and burn the trees that couldn’t be sold.
“Ryan tries to do right with the (CSU logging) team, and the team tries to do right with Ryan,” Adrian said. “We provide the horsepower, and he provides the firewood.”
The grant get about $17 a volunteer hour from the CSFS.
“For a lot of non-profits like the Scout Ranch, volunteer hours help leverage one side of the 50/50 match for cost share grants,” Staychock said.
Staff writer Eldad Sharon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.