The comparison of present vegetation to its condition at the time of white settlement in the western United States relates to many modern problems and controversies in conservation and vegetation management. An important example of a contemporary vegetation-management problem is the controversy over fire suppression versus "let burn" policies in our national parks and national forests. Another example is the debate over past and present impacts of livestock, and whether livestock should be permitted in wild lands managed by the federal or state governments. Planning for appropriate use and management of renewable natural resources requires predictions of how these resources might change under current use patterns. In the absence of long-term experiments, which require many decades of monitoring before useful results are obtained, historical information on vegetation response to past use and management is essential. Effective vegetation management must be based on a thorough understanding of how past human activities such as logging, burning, and livestock raising have contributed to the present vegetation patterns.
Natural disturbances, such as lethal insect outbreaks that may occur at rather infrequent intervals, also play major roles in creating landscape patterns. Knowledge of the roles of these natural disturbances is essential for effective resource management. To attain long-term goals of managing or preserving vegetation in wild landscapes, managers must understand the complex interactions of human-caused disturbances, changed patterns of vegetation, and altered patterns of natural disturbances. Similarly, the general public must understand these complex interactions if they are to make intelligent choices among policy alternatives. These considerations apply not only to wilderness and park areas where the principal management goal is preservation but also to forest reserves where long-term stability under multiple use for timber, watershed protection, wildlife protection, and recreation is the management goal (Lotan et al. 1985).
Veblen, Thomas T. and Lorenz, Diane C., "The Colorado Front Range: A Century of Ecological Change" (1991). Geography Faculty Contributions. 43.