How Much Damage Do Forest Fires Cause to Rivers?

The 2012 drought and fire season here in the West will surely go down as one of the worst years ever, in terms of number of destroyed homes and acreage and money lost. And the scary thing is we’re just over the halfway mark.

What many people don’t think about is what that destruction can do to the habitats of fish and game. While fire can obviously have positive long-term effects for overgrown forests, it can be pretty nasty in the short term – especially to rivers. And the damaging effects might last for years or even decades later.

For almost all of last month, the second largest fire in Colorado’s state history scorched almost 90,000 acres of mountains around the Poudre River west of Fort Collins. The Poudre is a beautiful trout stream that we often use for fishing and rafting. A week or two ago, we had a couple days of drenching rain which basically ran off the burned hillsides for miles, dragging ash and mud with it into the Poudre. The result is something the likes of which I’ve never seen in person and hope I never do.

Now I’m no fisheries biologist but I can’t imagine what you see in this video can be good for fish in the short or long term. The sad thing is that experts say this can happen for many years, every time there’s a large rain event.

Have any of you folks ever witnessed anything like this? What were the long-term ramifications to the watershed?