Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) communities are
the most widespread, tree dominated communities in North America.
Aspen ecosystems in the West produce numerous products including:
Water for Downstream Users
Forage for Livestock
Habitat for Wildlife
Sites for Recreational Opportunities
Loss , or potential loss, of aspen on these lands can be attributed
primarily to successional process that occurs with the reduction
(or Elimination) of fire and excessive use by ungulates.
Western aspen forests are unique because they reproduce primarily
by suckering from the parent root systems with successful sexual
reproduction being extremely rare.
Given a continuation of conditions (e.g. lack of fire, deer
and elk use, and livestock grazing) that have prevailed for the
past 100 to 150 years in the interior West, most aspen stands
will be eventually be replaced by conifers, sagebrush, or possibly
other tall shrub communities. Numerous areas throughout the West
that were once dominated by aspen are in a late successional
stage, and if treatment is going to be successful, something
needs to be done soon. Many treatment alternatives (such as burning,
cutting, fencing, spraying, ripping, chaining,) exist that can
be used by land managers to restore aspen. In certain areas,
treatments need to be pursued with caution. Excessive animal
pressure must be considered in the West. Clones treated by burning
and then repeatedly browsed usually only hasten their demise.
Treatments to induce suckering, therefore must not be initiated
before relief from excessive browsing is obtained.
Aspen dominated lands in the West have diminished from approximately
9.6 million acres since settlement. With this decline there are
associated losses (e.g. water depletion - conifers use
more water than aspen; less undergrowth vegetation
as sites convert to conifer; changes in biodiversity
such as birds, plant species, etc.) These aspen dominated regions
not only provide socially acceptable landscapes, but they also
hold values within ecosystems.