US Forest Service Research and Development Restoration of Aspen in the Western U.S. that are in Decline or Experiencing Die-off - Rocky Mountain Research Station - RMRS - US Forest Service

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Restoration of Aspen in the Western U.S. that are in Decline or Experiencing Die-off

The decline of aspen forests in the western U.S. is an excellent example where managers may want to reconsider policies and ecological restoration changes, especially regarding the exclusion or modification of natural fire cycles. Initial figures show that in the State of Utah alone, approximately 60 percent of aspen-dominated forests have been replaced by conifers in the recent past (150 years), and West-wide aspen decline has been estimated at between 50-90 percent since European settlement. The implications from loss of aspen translate into degradation or losses in water quality and quantity (some estimates suggest a 2-7 inch increase in water consumption by conifers when compared to aspen) with declining species biodiversity, livestock forage, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, wood fiber, asesthetics, and others. Recently, complete die-off of aspen clones has been observed. This die-off is speculated to be one way that "stable" aspen stands can regenerate themselves without influence of fire. However, in excess of 10 percent of the cases there is no regeneration and the root system is dying out. These clones are being lost from the landscape. This is especially pronounced in western Colorado, southern Utah, and southwest Wyoming.

Research efforts under this problem are being carried out that will compliment and bolster existing knowledge of restoration or the reversal of successional processes in aspen systems of the Interior West. Specifically, we are addressing how natural succession can be reset to an earlier stage under current use by both domestic and wild ungulates, as well as other activities that change plant composition. Research is assessing the effects of various imposed management treatments such as burning, harvesting, etc., in terms of the reproductive success of aspen and other speices; determining the frequency of fire required to sustain desired forest products in aspen/conifer stands where fire has been suppressed in the recent past; and the assessment of the effects of aspen root density on the effectiveness of treatments. In addition, there is a current need to evaluate the role of insect and disease vectors on regeneration associated with die-off of aspen and to determine what role stress and other factors contribute to this die-off situation.

Rocky Mountain Research Station
Last Modified: Monday, 28 April 2008 at 17:16:20 EDT (Version 1.0.5)