A healthy forest is heterogeneous, containing patches of old growth and successional plants. A healthy forest also has opportunities for quiet and remote recreation experiences and serves as a connected habitat for the diversity of plant and animal species that consider it home. Currently, habitat fragmentation, wildfire, pests and disease, and deforestation threaten the health of forests in the High Divide. Only with appropriate, creative management strategies can these areas be protected for generations to come.
Biophysical and climate change-related threats are common in these ecosystems. Drought is limiting tree seedling establishment and resulting in forest to rangeland and grassland conversion. Pest prevalence is higher following warmer winters, in turn killing trees and contributing to wildfire severity that often wipes out large sections of forest, shifting tree species compositions. Meanwhile, road development and inappropriate logging practices throughout many of these forests is fragmenting wildlife habitat and the newfound accessibility is allowing for unregulated motorized use.
Differing management structures and opinions, ranging from multiple-use mandates of land management agencies to litigious groups, make management of forestland more difficult and often lead to approaches such as fire suppression and clear cutting. More effective education, collaboration, and communication between disparate groups is a likely strategy to support better management practices. Additionally, forests will be healthier if leaders and decision makers understand the interconnected relationships between soil, water, plants, wildlife, and people, and use this knowledge to inform their management methods.
Photo: Emma Smith | Unsplash