Have you experienced the exhilaration of an early morning on the ski slopes? Or the solitude of fishing the cold, clear water of the Eagle River? Have you ever had a heart-stopping encounter with a moose, bear or bobcat? Or witnessed the wonder of a child examining each pebble, leaf and bird?
Each of these moments is a gift wrapped up in the beauty of the White River National Forest, the forest that surrounds Vail and the greater Eagle Valley and enriches our lives in so many ways each day.
Send your thanks to the early founders of the 1891 Forest Reserve Act and especially to President Theodore Roosevelt, who significantly expanded the reserve system into the millions of acres of U.S. Forest Service lands they are today.
Roosevelt had a vision for the well-being of our nation and for an active public citizenship that is now ripe to be realized.
"A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as helpless; forests which are so used that they cannot renew themselves will soon vanish, and with them all their benefits," Roosevelt said. "When you help preserve our forests or plant new ones, you are acting the part of a good citizen."
Our National Forests are a part of America's natural identity, they are more important to us than ever and they are in urgent need of restoration.
The National Forest Foundation is working at multiple levels to give people the tools they need to care for the lands they love - locally in the Eagle Valley, along Colorado's Front Range with Vail Resorts restoring the site of the 2002 Hayman wildfire, and across the nation at strategic locations. The National Forest Foundation is revitalizing the spirit of American conservation. Reflecting the citizen-led movement that created our National Forests more than a century ago, the National Forest Foundation builds public-private partnerships - uniting government agencies, communities, organizations and individuals in conserving and enhancing natural systems. The National Forest Foundation is committed to engaging diverse stakeholders and nurturing collaboration and is a non-advocacy organization.
If you've ventured up near Piney Lake in the past few years, you may have witnessed this kind of collaboration first-hand.
With Ski Conservation Funds from guest contributions at Vail Resorts plus matching funds from the National Forest Foundation, the Eagle River Watershed Council partnered with the local Eagle-Holy Cross District of the U.S. Forest Service to improve habitat conditions for fish and other wildlife that depend on healthy stream-side shelters. This project engaged local volunteers including youth with SOS Outreach.
The Piney River Habitat Enhancement Project is just one local example of an emerging emphasis on forest restoration that provides lasting benefits toward human experience and ecological resilience.
In June 2011, the National Forest Foundation and the Eagle-Holy Cross District of the White River National Forest launched a guiding vision and plan to engage local partners in restoring and enhancing the Eagle River Valley. Called "Continuing Our Conservation Legacy," this plan aims to:
• Connect communities and citizens to the land
• Enhance resilient ecosystems
• Create healthy landscapes and sustainable economies.
This local effort parallels a national U.S. Forest Service initiative to increase the pace of forest restoration and job creation around the country. That initiative is founded on a report that states that about 70 percent of our county's 193-million-acre National Forest System is in need of restoration "to address a variety of threats including fire, climate change, the bark beetle infestation and others."
Imagine a vision for restoration in the Eagle Valley or across Colorado or the nation. Restoration blends an understanding of historical natural conditions with modern science and an eye on adapting to our changing future. To ensure that our forests, watersheds and habitats can persist through diverse impacts, effective restoration also demands that we care for the whole human-ecological system. Between 1997 and 2003, the proportion of children ages 9-12 who spent time hiking, walking, fishing or otherwise enjoying nature declined 50 percent. This drop in outdoor participation carries a host of impacts - from the decline in kids' physical health to their diminishing environmental knowledge and conservation ethic. Addressing the "whole system," the National Forest Foundation is striving to meet many of the mounting forest restoration needs, while
also nurturing future stewards by engaging citizens of all ages in protecting their "backyard" - the National Forest system.
Kim Langmaid, Ph.D., lives in Vail and is the director of Colorado programs for the National Forest Foundation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nationalforests.org.