You are here

Test-driving a roadmap for quaking aspen restoration

Date: July 24, 2019

Science-management collaboration gets results for quaking aspen restoration. Management-friendly guidelines are put to work in Utah national forests.


Aspen clones are commonly seen growing alone (a) or mixed with various species of conifer
Aspen clones are commonly seen growing alone (a) or mixed with various species of conifer (b). Healthy landscapes are a mix of post-disturbance successional stages in which aspen and conifer dominance varies. Photo credit:Stan Kitchen (a) and Aaron Rhodes

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides; hereafter aspen) is a clonal species, meaning that it periodically produces suckers from a common root system that grow to replace older trees. Large clones cover many acres and include thousands of trees connected by roots that began from a single seed sometime in the distant past. As highly productive and biologically diverse communities, healthy aspen forests provide a wide range of ecosystem services. Western aspen decline during the last century has been attributed to several causes including altered wildfire regimes, drought, excessive use by livestock and wildlife, and conifer tree encroachment.

picture of an aspen stand
As aspen stands age, trees die, shoots emerge from the roots, and take their place. When young replacement shoots are missing, it indicates that browse by livestock and/or wildlife is excessive. If uncorrected, this leads to complete stand failure.

 

 

Today’s managers need guidance to develop and implement science-based strategies to restore structure, processes, and resilience to aspen growing across a range of situations. In response, a diverse group of researchers, managers and stakeholders collaborated to develop and test a step-by-step process for planning and implementing aspen restoration. The steps include: (1) assessment of aspen condition, (2) identification of problematic conditions, (3) determination of causal factors, (4) selection of appropriate response options, (5) monitoring for improvement, and (6) assessment and adaptation. Resulting guidelines provide a road map for decision makers to adaptively manage aspen in a time of increasing environmental stress and in anticipation of an uncertain future.

 

Members of the Monroe Mountain Working Group spend time in the field collecting data and examining aspen in a wide range of conditions. By working together, members develop the trust needed to find consensus when dealing with complex issues.
Members of the Monroe Mountain Working Group spend time in the field collecting data and examining aspen in a wide range of conditions. By working together, members develop the trust needed to find consensus when dealing with complex issues.

 

 

  • 2011: The Monroe Mountain Working Group – a collaborative representing federal and local government agencies and non-government organizations – was formed to develop and test a strategy for aspen restoration on 175,000 acres of the Fishlake National Forest in southern Utah in which aspen was both dominant and in advanced stages of decline.
  • 2013: Monitoring protocols were developed to measure aspen recovery in treated areas and detect change in untreated areas in a range of successional stages. Threshold standards were built in requiring management response should livestock and/or wildlife browsing levels reach levels that threaten aspen recovery. Protocols were adopted in 2014.
  • 2015: The Monroe Mountain Aspen Ecosystems Restoration Project Plan was finalized. Because it was rooted in best-available science and responsive to complex and often competing resource perspectives, this 10-year project to treat approximately 40,000 acres received broad-scale support and was awarded the “Chief’s Honor Award” in 2017.
  • 2018: The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache and Ashley National Forests request scientific expertise from the Rocky Mountain Research Station and collaborators to assist in development of a multi-year plan to address aspen restoration needs across northern Utah.
  • 2019: Guidelines for Aspen Restoration in Utah with Applicability to the Intermountain West (RMRS-GTR-390) was published providing a step-by-step process for integrating information gathering and decision making in a manner that is easily adapted by managers across spatial scales.

Managers choose response options to match the problematic conditions and their causes. Common tools include applications of prescribed fire (a) and mechanical removal of conifer (b).
Managers choose response options to match the problematic conditions and their causes. Common tools include applications of prescribed fire (a) and mechanical removal of conifer (b).

 

 

Featured Publications

Kitchen, Stanley G. ; Behrens, Patrick N. ; Goodrich, Sherel K. ; Green, Ashley ; Guyon, John ; O’Brien, Mary ; Tart, David , 2019


Principal Investigators: 
Forest Service Partners: 
Patrick N. Behrens, Regional Silviculturist (retired), Region 4
John Guyon, Pathologist, Region 4
David Tart, Regional Ecologist, Region 4
Jason Kling, District Ranger, Fishlake National Forest, Richfield District
External Partners: 
Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director, Grand Canyon Trust
Ashley Green, Habitat Section Chief, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources