Colorado mountains
From Long-Term Data to Understanding: Toward a Predictive Ecology
2015 LTER ASM Estes Park, CO - August 30 - September 2, 2015

Using a Forest Health Index as an Outreach Tool for Improving Public Understanding of Ecosystem Dynamics and Research-Based Management

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Poster Number: 
Presenter/Primary Author: 
Elise Osenga
Jamie Cundiff
James Arnott
John Katzenberger
Jeffrey Taylor
Emily Jack-Scott

An interactive tool called the Forest Health Index (FHI) has been developed for the Roaring Fork watershed of Colorado, with the  purpose of improving public understanding of local forest management and ecosystem dynamics. The watershed contains large areas of White River National Forest, which  plays a significant role in the local economy, particularly for recreation and tourism. Local interest in healthy forests is therefore strong, but public understanding of forest ecosystems is often simplified. This can pose challenges for land managers and researchers seeking a scientifically informed approach to forest restoration, management, and planning. Now in its second iteration, the FHI is a tool designed to help bridge that gap.

The FHI uses a suite of indicators to create a numeric rating of forest functionality and change, based on the desired forest state in relation to four categories: Ecological Integrity, Public Health and Safety, Ecosystem Services, and Sustainable Use and Management. In addition to offering local outreach and education, this project offers broader insight into effective communication methods, as well as into the challenges of using quantitative analysis to rate ecosystem health.  Goals of the FHI include its use in schools as a means of using local data and place-based learning to teach basic math and science concepts, improved public understanding of ecological complexity and need for ongoing forest management, and, in the future, its use as a model for outreach tools in other forested communities in the Intermountain West.