27 Jul 2009, 2:25pm
Ecology Management
by admin
Comments Off

Aspen: A Vanishing Resource

Charles E. Kay. 2009. Aspen: A Vanishing Resource. Mule Deer Foundation Magazine, No. 25, pp. 32-39.

Full text (without photos):

I have conducted scientific research on aspen for more than 25 years. During that time, I have personally measured more aspen stands in a greater number of locations than any other ecologist, living or dead. I have also personally measured more aspen exclosures than any person who has ever lived. In addition, I have made more than 800 repeat photosets depicting aspen.

My research, as well as that for others, has documented a major decline in aspen throughout intermountain North America since European settlement. Historical research and repeat photographs indicate that declines of 60% to 90% are common. My home state of Utah, for example, once contained over two million acres of aspen, but today there are less than 800,000 acres and aspen is still being lost. Moreover, many western aspen stands contain old-age or single-age trees and have not successfully regenerated for 80 years or longer. Colorado and other areas in the West have recently experienced the demise of large blocks of aspen — termed Sudden Aspen Decline Syndrome. All this should be of critical concern to readers of Muley Crazy because aspen provides ideal habitat for mule deer. IDEAL! Or at least it once did.

Before we can understand why aspen has declined, why aspen is still in serious freefall, and what we and the land management agencies can do to reverse that trend, a short lesson in aspen autecology is in order. We also need to dispel some serious myths about aspen. First, as any textbook will tell you, aspen is the most widely distributed tree in North America. Second, aspen is a clonal species and what we commonly call trees are actually ramets, having risen from a common root source via suckering. This means that the clone is the individual, not each tree. Moreover, many western aspen clones are quite large, often an acre or more in size, and one clone on Utah’s Fishlake National Forest, named Pando, has been identified as the largest living organism on Earth — a fact recently confirmed by genetic analysis. Pando covers approximately 106 acres, contains an estimated 50,000 trees (ramets), and weighs approximately 6,000 tons.

In a landscape dominated by large blocks of aspen, individual clones are easiest to spot during spring leaf-out or during autumn, as different clones produce new leaves at slightly different rates and turn color, or different colors, at slightly different times. One would have to be very cold-hearted not to appreciate aspen in all its golden fall splendor! This is why, when asked, I tell everyone that I study charismatic megaFLORA! There is nothing quite like hunting mule deer, or elk, in aspen during autumn, expect perhaps chasing gray ghosts in the lowveld.

In most years, aspen produces millions of viable seeds, but seedings and clonal establishment from seed are virtually non-existent. To survive, aspen seedlings need bare mineral soil, no competing vegetation, and high soil moisture throughout germination and the first summer of life. Conditions that simply do not exist in the West today. Given aspen’s demanding seedbed requirements, it is thought that the environment has not been conducive to seedling growth and the widespread establishment of new clones since shortly after the glaciers retreated 10,000 or more years ago. This means that the clones you see in the West today have likely survived for thousands of years via vegetative, also called asexual, reproduction or regeneration.

more »

1 Jul 2009, 3:05pm
Ecology Management
by admin
Comments Off

Testimony of Dr. Peter Kolb on Mountain Pine Beetle

Peter Kolb. 2009. Testimony of Dr. Peter Kolb, Montana State University, before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power Hearing on Mountain Pine Beetle: Strategies For Protecting The West, June 16, 2009.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

My name is Peter Kolb, and I am the Montana State University Extension Forestry Specialist and an Associate Professor of Forest Ecology and Management at the University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation. I’m here today speaking on behalf of the Society of American Foresters (SAF), an organization of over 15,000 forest managers, researchers, and educators. I’ve been a SAF member for 27 years.

I am here today to offer you my testimony with regard to the bark beetle situation across western forests with specific reference to the conditions across the Montana with which I am most familiar. My perspective is not that of an entomologist, but that of a forest ecologist and management specialist whose main work objective is to help implement the results and conclusion of scientific research into practical working applications. I work in both academic circles as an applied researcher and educator, and in the forest practitioners’ realm, which gives me the opportunity not only to conduct relevant research, but to examine the effects of forestry applications. Just three days ago I returned from a week of working with family landowners and the Cree and Chippewa tribes of central Montana where we examined the forest conditions there and the effectiveness of various forest practices in combating a mountain pine beetle outbreak in the Bearpaw Mountains.

Bark Beetles

The bark beetle outbreak we are experiencing across the entire western portion of North America is the result of multiple ecological factors converging at the same time. Its occurrence is not a surprise for foresters across western forests as the current expansiveness of bark beetle activity has been building for many years. Bark beetles such as mountain pine beetles, one of the main culprits in the current outbreaks, have been extensively studied since the mid 1970s. Its life cycle and ecology are very well understood. It has been a natural part of western forests for millennia and its population cycles are fairly predictable. Under what we would characterize the average forest and climatic conditions of the past century it exists as a chronic population within pine forests, colonizing and killing trees that are unable or incapable of defending themselves due to a variety of physiological, genetic or environmental factors. It may be considered analogous to wolves circling a herd of caribou, culling out the weak, unfit and injured. As with any species, bark beetles have numerous pests and predators themselves including a variety of predatory beetles, wasps, nematodes, mites, fungal diseases, and larger predators such as bark gleaning birds and woodpeckers. Depending on the populations of these predators and pests, chronic bark beetle populations might be kept in check.

more »

  • Colloquia

  • Commentary and News

  • Contact

  • Topics

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta