Restoring the Sustainability of Frequent-Fire Forests of the Rocky Mountain West

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W. Wallace Covington & Diane Vosick

The ecological, social, and economic sustainability of the Rocky Mountain West is threatened by declining forest health that is manifested by unnaturally high tree densities and fuel loads, increases in invasive exotic plants, decreasing biological diversity (plants and animals), and increased insect and disease outbreaks. These unnatural fuel loads lead to wildfires that have become unprecedented in their severity, acreage, and effects. In this paper we discuss the causes of forest health decline and advocate for ecological restoration as an approach for restoring forest health. We also summarize recent policy changes with the stated purpose to accelerate restoration and provide economic validation for why restoration is the smartest approach for reducing the threat of catastrophic fire.

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