Letter from the CEO

Letter from the CEO

Written by Chris Lane

The oldest living person in the world is Violet Brown, a 117-year old Jamaican woman. The oldest living animal is a Seychelles giant tortoise, named Jonathon, at 184 years old. But these all pale in comparison to Pinus longaeva, the bristlecone pine (shown on our cover), with one particular tree in the White Mountains (its location kept secret by researchers) still alive and well at 5,067 years old.

This tree is the oldest living single organism to have ever lived!

As an “infant,” this tree was around when the last woolly mammoths walked the earth! In its “childhood,” there was the invention of writing and the wheel. As a “teenager,” there was the completion of Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. During its “middle-age” years, there was the death of Buddha and birth of Jesus.

This tree quietly “breathed” during the landing of Columbus in the Americas, the industrial revolution, the civil war, and civil rights. Now, in its “retirement years,” it is witnessing the information age, the Anthropocene, and now, the associated impacts of climate change.

As our “wise elder,” the bristlecone pine is in need, not only of respect, but also protection. It is yet another “canary in the mine” of our climate changed world.

The tree is invaluable to dendroclimatologists, because it provides the longest continual climatically sensitive tree-ring chronologies on the planet. Scientists use the ratios of stable carbon isotopes from bristlecone pine tree rings to reconstruct precipitation regimes from thousands of years ago.

Our very own Rocky Mountain population of bristlecone pines is severely threatened by an introduced fungal disease known as white pine blister rust and by pine beetles.

And as temperatures continue to increase throughout the southern Rocky Mountain range (beyond the 0.5–1 °C in the last 30 years), these high elevation trees have no place to go (Trees typically respond to temperature increases by moving to cooler, more suitable habitats, in some cases uphill). Consequently, the genetic diversity within the species has become a concern.

Are we willing to lose such a connection to our history? Moreover, are we willing to lose other forest ecosystems through climate change related impacts such as drought, disease, catastrophic wildfire and insect infestation?

Forest ecosystems support life, they provide basic ecosystem services: from nutrient cycling, erosion control, soil formation and water regulation to provision of raw materials, food, and recreation. Simply stated, forests are the ecological foundation for plant, animal and, yes, your own life. Forests also play a crucial role in mitigating human-caused climate change by absorbing 13% of carbon dioxide emissions.

ACES works on forest ecosystem health, education and restoration projects on a local, regional and national level.

We continue to lead the Hunter Smuggler Cooperative Plan, a stewardship initiative aimed at improving forest health, wildlife habitat, recreation and education opportunities in the 4,861 acres of federal land adjacent to Aspen.

This year, ACES, in partnership with the City of Aspen, Pitkin County, and the US Forest Service, completed an 80-acre oak mastication to improve forest health, wildlife habitat, and reduce wildfire risk.

Our 900-acre prescribed burn conducted last year is being studied by CSU researchers to determine the ecological outcomes of the burn.

The Forest Health Index (foresthealthindex.org) is being improved as an education tool to connect students to their local forests. It is also being expanded for the entire western slope of Colorado. We even are working on a local tree species field guide for visitors.

This fourth edition of ACES’ State of the Forest report explores the connection between our forests and climate change; shows how insects and tree diseases correlate with increases
in temperature; highlights new threats to our forests; makes the economic case for forest protection; shows results of restoration efforts; and offers collaborative solutions to the challenges our forests face.

Most of all, it is our hope that this report will educate citizens, policy makers, federal, state and local governments, and land managers to take action on forest ecosystem health and conservation issues.

By respecting our elders–in this case–trees, we can learn how to protect the forest ecosystems critical to our own survival.

I hope you’ll join our effort.

Chris Lane, CEO