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In the same year that Brigham Young began to develop Salt Lake City in the Territory of Deseret based on Mormon principles, another group of pioneers in Europe began to manage forests based on scientific principles. In 1873, the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) was founded in Vienna, Austria. Since then, IUFRO has provided a forum for researchers to share the best available science on forests by conducting an International Congress every four years.

This week, Salt Lake City will host the 24th International Congress, only the second time in IUFRO's history that the United States has hosted this world's largest international gathering of forest researchers and practitioners. More than 2,500 forest researchers, managers, and policy-makers from over 100 countries will meet at the Salt Palace Convention Center to discuss the state of the world's forests.

Why is this important? Forests provide food, water, shelter, water, and spiritual and cultural sustenance for people around the world. Forest science provides key information on sustaining forests and the people who depend on them. As our global population passes the 7 billion mark, forests around the world are under stresses such as expanding urbanization, greater demand for timber, conversion of forest to agricultural use, and changing climate regimes. In our own backyard of the Intermountain West, the mounting invasion of the pine beetles — due to warmer winter temperatures — is destroying large segments of our conifer forests, turning green mountainsides to brown.

The Congress includes 168 research sessions featuring more than 2,000 oral and poster presentations, and five plenary talks. But the Congress is not just for scientists – it offers opportunities for all of us to learn about trees. A diverse set of partners will provide local programs that articulate forest values of all kinds. Partners include the University of Utah, U.S. Forest Service, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, Tree Utah, the Kings English Bookstore, the Utah Film Center, the Westminster Slam Poets, and the Wasatch Wordsmiths.

Events include a forest film and discussion panel, a forest book reading, and a "Slam PoeTree" event by two local slam poetry groups commissioned to create original poetry on forest and tree themes. For the truly adventurous, two downtown tattoo studios will offer tree tattoos with accompanying information about the biology of the tree species depicted in the tattoo — a permanent mark about forests!

Utah has often been a historic leader in forest research and protection. In 1915, Gifford Pinchot, the founding Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, visited the Wasatch Range, travelling by horse through our canyons. He worked with Salt Lake City to establish the viable culinary water system that benefits us today. This sense of stewardship, originating a century ago, must now be examined for the next century. With Salt Lake County's population doubling in the next 30 years, a critical question is whether our Wasatch forest will be capable of providing the natural resources — particularly water — over the next 30 years. The reports of forest researchers from the IUFRO Congress will help our municipalities, counties, state and federal government agencies make the wise decisions needed for the critical long-term protection of our forests and watersheds.

As our international visitors experience the elevated beauty of our state, our citizens can learn from their knowledge. We look forward to providing hospitality to these visitors, as we share common dependency on forests here and around the world. Offer friendly guidance to conference delegates as they find their way around our city. Participate in the rich offerings of the local forest-related events that have been organized, and discover the many facets of forest and their relationships to the people of Utah and around the world.

Nalini Nadkarni is a professor of biology and director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at the University of Utah. Pat Shea is a former director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.