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

Thursday, 17 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Elise C Osenga1, Jamie Cundiff2, James C Arnott1, John Katzenberger1, Jeffrey R Taylor1 and Emily Jack-Scott1, (1)Aspen Global Change Institute, Washington, DC, United States, (2)Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Aspen, CO, United States
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. The rating is based on data derived from several sources including local weather stations, stream gauge data, SNOTEL sites, and National Forest Service archives. 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.