Monday, August 11, 2014

In Idaho and across the West, aspen trees are disappearing

The most widespread tree in North America is disappearing. East Idaho's aspen community, once estimated to cover 40 percent of the region's forested areas, has declined by an estimated 60 percent in the past 100 years, while Arizona has seen a 90 percent decline during that time, said Aren Eddingsaas, chairman of the science and technology committee for the Eastern Idaho Aspen Working Group and a wildlife biologist for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe. "I would consider it a very big issue," said Ben Dyer, ecologist for the Bureau of Land Management. "It's a keystone species and vital to other plant, animal and insect survival." Experts agree that the decline of aspen, locally and around the West, largely is the result of two things: lack of fire and encroachment of conifers and juniper. Because the root system of aspen runs deeper than most trees, aspen can survive forest fires that competing trees can't. But as wildfire fighting becomes more prevalent, aspen benefit less. "When you have juniper encroachment, they have a wide root system and take in a lot more water and can choke out the aspen," Dyer said. The trees also are susceptible to "sudden aspen decline" - a condition that claims entire groves without conifer invasion...more

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