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Environment / Sustainability

Bonfire burns in light of Homecoming celebration

October 2, 2013

University fuels Homecoming bonfire with trees killed by bark beetles and wildfire.

Green twist from forestry students, collaborators<em>Photo courtesy of Ryan Lockwood.</em>

For this year's Homecoming bonfire, the Colorado State Forest Service will once again provide a combination of pine and fir "slash" from the Borden Memorial Forest northwest of Fort Collins. The CSFS for years has been thinning the private forest to remove beetle-kill trees, mitigate fire risk and improve forest health, and over the past year has also worked to remove trees killed by the High Park Fire. This is the fourth year in a row that the CSFS has provided wood from this site for the bonfire. 

With the help of Colorado State University forestry students and Facilities Management, CSFS foresters will transport about 35 cubic yards of the dried slash -- enough to fill three dump trucks -- to the bonfire site this Friday.

Better environmental alternative

Before 2010, the CSU Homecoming bonfire was built using wooden pallets collected and dumped in the irrigation ditch near the Lory Student Center West Lawn. However, these wooden slabs were typically processed wood that included imbedded nails that would later have to be removed from the ditch after the bonfire.

Three years ago, CSU's Facilities Management decided to take it in a new direction. In order to help the environment as well as allow forestry students to gain hands-on experience, Facilities began partnering with the CSFS and the Department of Forest, Rangeland & Watershed Stewardship to find a better alternate for the bonfire.

“The amount of slash at Borden has increased in recent years due to the mountain pine beetle and High Park Fire, which makes this endeavor all the more important,” said Mike Hughes, assistant district forester for the CSFS Fort Collins District. 

More about the pine beetle infestation

When mountain pine beetles infest a pine tree, they burrow through the bark and spread a fungus that often results in the death of the tree. This fungus will turn parts of the wood blue, which can make the wood difficult to sell because of a perceived lower quality. 

In actuality, blue-stain wood has the same integrity as other pine and can be used to craft unique, eye-catching furniture, home construction materials and specialty wood products. 

After a tree has been killed by bark beetles or wildfire, it eventually falls to the ground, where it will begin to rot and adds to the fuel available for a future forest fire.

By using the left over branch wood and needles from forest management projects in the bonfire, CSU will help the forest by reducing the forest density, which in effect helps reduce the intensity of future forest fires. Likewise, once burned, the leftover ash can be 'recycled' into a fertilizer or other soil enhancer.