Forests are constantly growing and changing. But because of the lengthy period of time involved in forests’ growth, decline and recovery, many people view them as a static snapshot in time, said Tom Eager, with the U.S. Forest Service in Gunnison.
That can lead to a false sense of what a forest really is.
“As foresters we forget the average person sees a tree die and thinks it’s a catastrophe,” Eager said. “But a forester can see the young seedling come in — what a gift that is to see the big picture.”
Eager joined a group of forestry professionals in Frisco to discuss the changing mountain landscape during the Western Colorado Community Forestry Conference on Friday.
The new attitude toward Colorado forests requires people to think about the landscape differently and to realize that thinning the trees through active forest management is a good thing, Eager said.
Summit County local Dan Schroder, a Colorado State University extension agent, joined Eager to talk about forest management and how the formation of partnerships can lead to forest health solutions.
“This view of forests as a static overstory — as green and unchanging — isn’t realistic and it isn’t how it’s always been,” Schroder said. “A method of preservation is to manage the forest by creating diversity in age and decreasing stand densities.”
Thinning the forests can also lead to healthier trees, by making it easier for them to fight off insects like the mountain pine beetle and spruce bark beetle, especially in drought years, Eager said.
“There is a very close relationship between water and the amount of beetles impacting trees,” he said.
Trees act like water pumps, sucking the water out of the ground, the forester explained. When a forest is thinned properly, the remaining trees have an increased vigor and stronger resistance to beetles.
While populations of mountain pine beetles are dwindling, Eager said, the spruce bark beetle could be the next big threat to Colorado forests.
“I call them Jekyll and Hyde insects because the majority of the time they are scavengers, not affecting the landscape, but now and again the conditions are perfect for them,” he said.
Large outbreaks of the spruce bark beetle are difficult to control, and trees that have been killed by the spruce bark beetle can create a severe fire hazard.
Schroder discussed the different ways Summit County has been successful in dealing with fire hazards created by dead lodgepole pines during his forest health presentation.
He said partnerships formed within the county among private landowners, municipal and county governments, the Forest Service and others have been crucial to this effort.
Schroder said although these stakeholders might not always agree, they have managed to create a positive impact on forest health.
“We may not see things eye to eye or have the same opinions or beliefs, but it’s important to realize as a stakeholder that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m right or wrong, or someone else is right or wrong, but that we have more to bring to the table,” Schroder said.
Stakeholders in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan have come up with a common “language” to convey their wildfire safety message, he said, and that’s helped them bring that message home to landowners.
Schroder encouraged conference participants to make a positive impact on forest health by assessing their community’s condition; identifying stakeholders and building partnerships; developing a plan to generate consistent messaging; and tracking and sharing their successes.
“The new aesthetic is getting people to think differently, and getting to them to buy in to the idea that actively managing the forest is a good thing,” he said.