Historic drought, wildfires changing Colorado's landscape

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis says fire mitigation and defense are critical

A historic drought and devastating wildfires have changed the landscape for people who call Colorado home.

So, how does the state respond and provide relief to those who have been affected by the extreme climate conditions?


Colorado Gov. Jared Polis joined FOX Weather on Thursday morning and said the most significant change has been the year-round threat of fires.

"We had the largest and most destructive suburban fire in the history of our state last December, the Marshall Fire – now, the May Ranch just a week ago in southeast Colorado."

Polis said fire mitigation and defense are critical.

"We're in a situation with, effectively, statewide drought," he said. "We've been there most of the last few years with these changing conditions. There's just new and prolonged threats to both grasslands, wildlands, as well as urban and suburban areas."

Pres. Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for the state of Colorado in January and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the federal disaster assistance was made available to supplement the state and local recovery efforts following the Marshall Fire.

"We're very grateful for that," Polis said. "The most tangible change when we're granted a major disaster area is the reimbursement that we get for the federal government, not the individual homeowner level, but the state expenses that go into firefighting. We had the three largest wildfires in the history of our state in 2020 – so, three of the largest wildfires, the most destructive fire last December, and now we're already seeing grassland fires this season. It looks even worse in eastern Colorado."


But it's not only the fires changing the landscape. Drought is making these times challenging for ranchers.

"Here in Colorado, two of our biggest industries are climate-dependent: farming and ranching," he said. "And, of course, outdoor recreation and skiing. These are both directly climate-related, and they're directly affected by drier conditions and the changing climate."

Polis said the Department of Agriculture is stepping up to support farmers and ranchers with soil health initiatives and fire mitigation initiatives.

"This is an economic threat," he said. "Farmers and ranchers can lose everything they have, and that's why we've got to bring these communities together. There's such love in our eastern Colorado communities."