The Forest Health Index (FHI) connects communities of Colorado with their forests. Many of us depend on forests for resources, livelihoods, and enjoyment. Changes in climate and growing conditions affect the health of forests. The FHI provides a way for us to see how our local forests are impacted and how conditions have changed over time.
No single measurement that can tell us if a forest is healthy or not. Part of this is because forests are always changing. Over time one tree species may thrive while another will die off. Fires or bark beetles can decimate thousands of acres. the way for new and diverse species. None of these things mean a forest is unhealthy. We do know that our forests have evolved with a stable climate. Things like precipitation, snowpack, and temperature vary every year but over long periods of time, they are stable. As humans continue to impact natural ecosystems these critical components are changing. Streams are being diverted or sucked dry for agriculture and development. Climate change is increasing temperatures. Air pollution from communities and industry is widespread. As these drivers of forest health continue to change forests will suffer.
Understanding the condition of our forests helps us understand our communities. It helps us plan for the future, and better protect one of our most valuable resources. Often times we only see the impacts of poor forest health. Bark beetle outbreaks larger than any in the historic record or wildfires that continue to grow more serve and widespread. Like a fever from an infection these are only the symptoms. We cannot protect our forests by treating the symptom. The FHI shows us how the conditions that impact forest health are changing over time.