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The Forest Health Index is a tool to help the community of the Roaring Fork Valley make sense of the wide range of interlinking environmental conditions that affect the health of our local forest. This site provides discussion and data on over 20 unique climatic, ecological, and socioeconomic indicators, offering a glimpse into both the potential drivers of change and the effects of change in our local forest environment.

What is forest health? Our notion of forest health is based on the premise that a healthy forest is one that is resilient to change and able to provide for local ecology as well as human goals. In defining forest health, we do not presume one definite notion of forest health. Instead, we present a view of forest health from four perspectives based on widely agreed upon public goals, which are:

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What does the score mean? Throughout the Forest Health Index, you will see scores for each indicator. We have based these “FHI Scores” on the current status observed in these indicators using a scale from 1 to 100. Icons accompanying each score help to identify the status of each indicator at a glance. Weighted averages of scores within public goals are the basis of a score for each goal. Unlike the stock market, determining forest health (by any definition) cannot be distilled into a single number. As a result, the FHI scores are intended to highlight magnitudes of change or departure from normal within different indicators. We hope these scores will pique curiosity, probe discussion, and encourage involvement in forest health issues. We intend to periodically update and improve the index so that change in forest conditions can be witnessed over time.

Ecological Integrity Indicators

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Ecological Integrity

Although the human capacity to understand all the dimensions of forest ecosystems is limited, it is a goal common to many societies to preserve the vital conditions of nearby forests in a familiar state. These conditions include: structure (e.g diversity of stand ages), function (e.g. nutrient cycling), and composition (e.g. species diversity). The rationale for this goal is based upon preservation for a variety of purposes, varying from preservation of the forest for its intrinsic value to preserving the forest for its utility in human activities. Regardless of the motivation behind the sentiment, we find ecological integrity to be a primary aim of communities in forested regions, and ecological integrity provides an important lens through which forest health is evaluated.

Monitoring ecological integrity through quantitative analysis is challenging due to the often large area of land involved and the sometimes difficult to measure attributes of ecological integrity. Based on data available to us, we have utilized records such as satellite-based measurements of forest productivity and on the ground observations of indicator species such as elk and macroinvertebrates to develop an index for this public goal. As the Forest Health Index matures in the coming years, we intend to add more indicators that will help present a more complete picture of Ecological Integrity.

Public Health & Safety Indicators

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Public Health and Safety

A primary concern for communities situated in and around forested areas is the potential threat to health and safety posed by forest dynamics. A predominant concern in this regard is the risk of fire to the safety of people and the value of structures. As changes occur in our management strategies related to fire, as well as in the climate surrounding our local forests, it is crucial to monitor trends relevant to public health and safety. Metrics such as fire risk and other indicators enable citizens and forest managers to appropriately gauge and respond to threats posed by conditions in and around the forest.

To assess the relative condition of public health and safety in the forest, we have selected indicators primarily focused on fire. Fire is a concern not only within the forest but potentially expanding to the wildlife-urban interface. Insect and disease infestation as well as high-elevation snowpack influences the safety of the public recreating in the forest as well as setting the stage for fire. Additionally, non-fire related indicators such as air quality address other aspects of public health and safety in the forest.

Ecosystem Services Indicators

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Ecosystem Services

Our local forest is a system through which critical services for our community are created, processed, stored, and delivered. Forests play a role in providing essential services such as clean air and water or essential habitat for wildlife, but also can deliver an array of essential resources that over time become the lifeblood of a community, such as material for timber and energy production or, in the case of our region, the conditions desirable for summer and wintertime recreation. There are intangible services too, such as aesthetic beauty, which bring with them numerous societal and economic benefits.

Due to the importance of all of these services, their continuity is a fundamental in the public interest. All of these services fall under the banner of ecosystem services because of the role they play in meeting human needs. These services in turn are provided only through the healthy functioning of a forest ecosystem. The ability of a forest to provide ecosystem services is determined by a complex set of factors, internal and external, some of which are easily measurable and some that are not.

Sustainable Use & Management Indicators

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Sustainable Use & Management

Human activities abound in our local forest, from skiing and mountain biking to backpacking and horseback riding. Another realm of activity is the work of land managers, who tend to the state of the forest by setting policies for a mix of uses, regulating users of the forest, and implementing on-the-ground treatments to accomplish tasks such as restoration, trail building, fire prevention, or hazard mitigation. The public goal Sustainable Use & Management evaluates magnitudes of changes in human activities where such data exists, the capability of managers to achieve various forest health related objectives, and the overarching environmental variables that can affect the ability of individual users or managers to accomplish sustainability goals in their interaction with the forest.

To create an index for Sustainable Use & Management, we have selected indicators that include metrics of the human footprint in the forest and measurements of management achievement. For instance, the metric of population capacity utilizes water utility data to highlight the increased capacity for population that has been developed in Aspen since the 1970s. This infrastructure enables increased activities in wilderness areas and elsewhere in the forest, which place pressures on management to handle sustainably. Additionally, climatic variables such as snowpack, temperature, and precipitation constrain the aspirations of forest managers or, in the case of fire risk, add additional responsibilities for managers.