State funding boosts seedling tree nursery, growing its capacity for wildfire response


A Colorado State University nursery will more than quadruple production of seedlings to protect and reforest western landscapes — many of which have been devastated by wildfires — after state lawmakers recently approved $10.3 million in allocations approved.

The Colorado State Forest Service is using funds allocated during the 2022 and 2023 legislature to modernize aging infrastructure and facilities at its seedling nursery at the CSU Foothills campus in Fort Collins. The nursery includes 130 hectares of fields and greenhouses with associated irrigation, equipment and structures.

Gov. Jared Polis visited the nursery on May 15 to sign the second of two funding bills.

Ponderosa pine seedlings growing at the nursery on the CSU Foothills campus. Recent allocations of $10.3 million in federal funding will allow the nursery to significantly increase its capacity, from 500,000 to more than 2 million seedlings grown annually to help preserve and reforest western landscapes. Photo by Field Peterson/CSFS

“The Colorado State Nursery is truly the hub for the entire state for this important forest health work,” Polis said.

This year, the nursery will grow 500,000 tree seedlings, including ponderosa pine, blue spruce and Rocky Mountain juniper. The nursery improvements are expected to be complete by the summer of 2025 and allow the site to grow 2 million seedlings per year — with incremental increases beyond that, said Scott Godwin, manager of the nursery.

All tree seedlings from the nursery will be used for conservation and reforestation projects in Colorado and surrounding states, Godwin said. The number used specifically for wildfire reforestation is increasing as fires burn western forests, often due to drought, beetle-killing trees, and climate change. In these and other cases, reforestation is vital for healthy ecosystems, erosion control, and clean water, among other benefits.

“Reforestation is critical to our state’s future, and demand for nursery-grown seedling trees and shrubs to reforest burned areas, build climate-resilient watersheds and forests, and improve carbon storage to meet the state’s climate action goals is increasing rapidly.” said Matt McCombs, director of the Colorado State Forest Service.

During a visit last year, Polis said he expects the seedling nursery to play a bigger role in wildfire recovery.

“We’re excited to see some big new investments here,” he said. “We need the increased production to help Colorado recover from the major fires.”

The Colorado State Forest Service is a service and outreach agency of Warner College of Natural Resources at CSU and provides personnel and technical expertise to the Forest Division of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. It has 17 field offices and is the premier state agency for forest and timber management, surveys, public education and landowner services.