If our national forests are going to get healthy, local communities have to organize to get the restoration work done, according to Tony Cheng, director of the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute.
Dr. Cheng speaks tonight in Carbondale and tomorrow night in Aspen.
At the institute, housed at Colorado State University, Cheng develops programs to make forests healthier and more resilient, by melding science with public policy.
In towns like Aspen, he noted, collaborative approaches that bring citizens, local governments and federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service together are the most effective way to tackle forest health.
“The bottom line for me is that our management agencies are strapped for cash and resources,” he said, “and it makes things happen quicker and to greater effect when you have non-governmental organizations in action.”
He pointed to the budding master plan for the Hunter Creek Valley and Smuggler Mountain as an example of such partnerships. In that case, the Forest Service teamed last year with non-profit For the Forest and others to write a plan addressing fire risk, bark beetle infestation and recreation issues in the area. That planning process is ongoing.
Cheng said he is interested in getting involved with implementing and monitoring that massive undertaking, if it moves forward with the feds.
“I think it’s great that a community-based organization has taken it upon themselves to do something about the forest,” he said.
Pine beetles, sudden aspen decline, climate change, monoculture and decadent fire-prone tree growth are just a handful of the health issues plaguing the sick forests of the west. For towns like Aspen that are surrounded by the forest, Cheng noted, it provides an economy and a way of life, making forest health a vital community issue — not only an environmental problem.
His work has focused on areas within the buffer zone between untamed forest and towns like Aspen, the area known in forestry-speak as the “wildland-urban interface.”
Cheng has two public presentations in the valley this week:
• Wednesday, March 14, 5:30 p.m., Third Street Center, 520 S. Third St., in Carbondale.
• Thursday, March 15, 7:30 p.m., Aspen Center For Environmental Studies, 100 Puppy Smith St., in Aspen.