Since 2014 when the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies produced the first State of the Forest Report, we’ve endeavored every year to explore and understand the health of our forests. On a recurring basis, we ask questions and provide information about the impacts of climate on our forests, about threats from insects and disease, and about wildlife.
Last year, we partnered with Mountain Studies Institute in southwest Colorado to develop parallel reports for the San Juan Watershed and the Roaring Fork Watershed. In the wake of one of Colorado’s largest wildfire years in history, we produced a report focused on the relationship between forests and water, highlighting both current and future impacts of drought.
In all of the issues to date, we’ve asked important and, we hope, relevant questions about our forests, but until this year, we hadn’t explicitly asked: Who are we in all this? What is the relationship between communities and forests?
This year, we turned our focus on humans to better understand who manages the forests and how those decisions are made, why people care about forests, and the diverse relationships humans have had with forests throughout history.
We tried to take a broad lens, stepping outside current management structures and putting them in the much larger context of how humans have related to forests for thousands of years. Fire is just one of the lenses through which we examine human management and relationship to forests. And we ask the question: Can you really own a forest? Or, if tasked with managing a forest, how can we prioritize the forest itself—to see the forest not for what we need from it, but for its inherent value? To see the trees through the forest, if you will.
Through all of these questions, we tried to better understand the ways we both harm and protect the ecosystems we care so deeply about and rely so heavily upon.
We hope these questions encourage dialogue, engagement, and reflection.