Bob Woodmansee: Maintenance, restoration of healthy ecosystems |

Bob Woodmansee: Maintenance, restoration of healthy ecosystems

Last week I was asked to give a five-minute talk about the Earth and climate change after the viewing of the compelling documentary film “The Human Element.” This was a daunting task for an old ecologist/soil scientist who has been involved in climate change research from its beginning in the 1970s. Time was short, I had to improvise and summarize. Here is the full revised text of my intended comments.

Maintenance and restoration of healthy ecosystems, the life blood of sustainability, are essential goals in meeting the challenges brought about by climate and other global changes. Healthy ecosystems on public and private lands in the Yampa River Basin and the West are essential for sustainability of our environment and economy.

Healthy rangeland, forest and riparian ecosystems are at or near their vegetative potential — primary production — given our local climate and soils. They: provide sustainable forage supplies for livestock and forest products; produce good quality water; maintain or sequester carbon; control erosion and sedimentation; support biological diversity; and offer numerous recreational and esthetic values. And, they can improve economic profitability for farmers and ranchers.

Healthy ecosystems are resilient meaning they can recover from most natural and many human caused disturbances. Ecosystems can be healthy or degraded whether they are on public land, private land, or both.

At meaningful spatial scales like landscapes — ranches, real farms, state wildlife areas, grazing allotments, etc. or small regions like the Upper Yampa River Watershed — attributes of rangelands, forestlands and riparian areas are interconnected and interdependent regardless of ownership and administrative boundaries.

Changing climate, expressed as drought frequency and severity, severity of fires, early snow melt and changing temperature regimes have impacts on ecosystems. Local activities such as ranching, farming, forestry practices, recreational activities and oil and gas development and mining also have impacts on ecosystems and many interact with climate change.

Some impacts are positive, some negative. To achieve healthy ecosystems, each impact must be evaluated and managed.

Scientifically supported “best management practices” can improve or maintain ecosystem health or at least minimize their negative impacts. When these practices are adequately funded and implemented by knowledgeable land managers, healthy ecosystems can be maintained and degraded ecosystems can be restored to healthier conditions.

A key takeaway from Paul Bonnifield’s insightful description of the history of federal land management in the west that appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Aug. 6 is “Without strong, well-financed national protection and professional administration our public lands are doomed.”

Enlightened private land management also requires competence and adequate financing especially when collective management is required such as mitigating climate change, protecting water quality, enhancing water quantity or protecting wildlife habitat.

Conflicts will always arise over issues of management of our lands, for what purposes, and “Whose ox is going to get gored?” To resolve conflicts, participation and collaboration of all affected stakeholders is essential and transparency of decision making is critical.

For example, here in the Upper Yampa Basin, ranchers, farmers, merchants and bankers, water managers, recreationists, wilderness advocates, public and agency officials and others are all stakeholders in our interdependent public and private lands. If affected stakeholders are not engaged in developing and agreeing to scientifically sound and societally acceptable solutions, federal policies and management decisions are doomed to fail, our lands will degrade, and litigation is sure to follow.

Implementing stakeholder involvement and following “best management practices” with the goals of achieving healthy ecosystems, are the pathways to adapting to changing climate and other known and unanticipated disturbances and contributing to mitigation of their causes.

Bob Woodmansee


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