Changing forest management to restore recruitment of cottonwood, aspen, and willow
Utah Forest Restoration Working Group (UFRWG): Two 2011 project teams
Aspen has declined by at least 35 percent in Utah, and much of what remains is threatened by conifer encroachment, dieback apparently associated with drought, and heavy browsing of aspen sprouts by elk, cattle, and other ungulates. In January 2011, the multi-stakeholder UFRWG completed (by consensus) its ecologically based Guidelines for Restoring Aspen on the National Forests in Utah. Co-convened by the Trust and Western Aspen Alliance, the UFRWG launched two project teams on the ground with the Fishlake National Forest. Using the guidelines for two complex aspen restoration projects: the currently unhealthy, but world-famous Pando Clone at Fish Lake will be fenced and small restoration treatments will be studied.
A major collaboration was formed in 2011 to restore aspen stands on Monroe Mountain, Utah’s premier elk trophy hunting mountain. Some of the aspen lack recruitment because of overtopping by conifer (lack of recent fires), but a large proportion lack recruitment because of excessive browsing by ungulates (elk, cattle, deer, sheep, and goats).
Continuing to bear witness to riparian aspen, willow, and cottonwood suppression
Since 2008, the Trust has been intensively measuring the level of browsing on cottonwood, aspen, and willow at targeted sites within all three national forests. We have found that cottonwood and aspen trees as well as willows (which could be over 8 feet tall) have sprouts, but these sprouts are being kept below 4–6 feettall, so they cannot grow into the overstory. This means that too few aspen, cottonwood, and willow are available to replace the old, large, tall “overstory” aspen, cottonwood, and willow as they inevitably die. In 2011, we continued this monitoring but now it contributed to a collaborative effort to restore these key riparian plants (see below).
Changing forest management
Partially in response to our field documentation and reports on problems with recruitment among riparian cottonwood, aspen, and willow, a groundbreaking collaborative effort is being undertaken to define desired riparian as well as upland “range” (grassland, shrubland, and forest) conditions on the Dixie, Fishlake, and Manti-La Sal National Forests. Decades overdue, this collaboration will lead to forest plan amendments on all three forests. The Trust is participating actively in the collaboration.
Click here to volunteer for our remaining two 2012 volunteer cottonwood/aspen/willow assessment trips that are still open, both scheduled in September.