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Bringing Back the Color

aspen groveEvery fall Aspen display brilliant yellows and oranges across the landscape. We are seeing less of their vibrant colors every fall. Over the last 150 years, stands have declined as much as 95%. We are trying to learn why and are restoring aspen in the valley. Aspen are important habitat to over 70 species of wildlife. Fire exclusion, grazing, and drought have all been factors in their decline. There is growing concern on how this decline is affecting birds and wildlife, and the impact our restoration efforts have on this critical habitat.

In 2000, we began to restore aspen in Wallowa County with partners like the US Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and private landowners. We wanted to promote sprout regrowth in currently degraded stands of aspen. We did this primarily by fencing aspen stands to exclude animals, like deer, elk, and livestock. We also thinned competing conifers and applied prescribed burning as restoration tools. With our partners, we built over 50 aspen enclosures and put out more than 8 miles of fence since 2000.

Are the Colors Coming Back?

Like any restoration effort, you need to monitor to determine whether your techniques are working. We have compared effectiveness of fence types and initiated a long-term aspen habitat monitoring project using birds. Birds are easy to study and are quick to respond to changes, which allow us to determine restoration success. We hope to secure more funding for our monitoring efforts in order to learn more how our restoration efforts improve aspen stands. Results suggest restoration has increase the number of aspen sprouts reaching maturity, but in-depth monitoring data would show how this has impacted bird and wildlife habitat.

Fence Type Effectiveness

In 2009, we compared the effectiveness of fence types on aspen restoration success and the ability to keep out deer, elk and cattle. We found:

    • The poletop panel fence was the most successful type that we tested.
    • Buck and pole fences were also good at keeping out browsers when they were equipped with woven wire on the bottom two rungs to stop deer from crawling under.
    • Barbed wire fences, the lowest fence studied, were no different statistically than unfenced stands as far as aspen regeneration or amount of browse.

Long-term Habitat Monitoring

aspen studyIn 2000, we initiated a long-term aspen habitat restoration and monitoring project in Wallowa County along with partners from USFS and Idaho Department of Fish and Game. We established permanent study plots, implemented restoration treatments, and collected extensive ecological data (birds and habitat) to describe baseline conditions. We found:

    • Bird communities in aspen forests of Wallowa County were richer than other aspen in the interior West.
    • More monitoring is needed to gauge restoration progress. Unfortunately, we have not been able to secure funding for this work.

Bring Back the Colors on Your Land!

If you have a degrading aspen stand on your property, you can try the following to promote regeneration:

  • If you find lots of heavily browsed sprouts, build a fence to keep our deer, elk, or cattle.
  • If conifers are close to aspen, consider removing them to reduce competition for water, light, and nutrients.

View the Studies:

"Effectiveness of Fenced Exclosures in Aspen Restoration: An examination of several fence types" examined the effectiveness of different types of fences to exclude browsers (deer, elk and cattle) and support aspen regeneration. The 5 fence types studied were: barbed wire, buck & pole, outrigger, poletop panel and woven wire. The poletop panel was the most successful fence type in all categories that was tested.

Get the Aspen Report PDF Here

"Restoring High Priority Habitats for Birds: Aspen and Pine in the Interior West" describes a long-term habitat restoration project in the Blue Mountains ecoregion, northeast Oregon, that was initiated in May 2000. Restoration activities were focused on two habitats previously identified as being high priority for birds: quaking aspen and ponderosa pine. This paper describes the study area, monitoring techniques, restoration activities, brief summaries of breeding bird abundance and nesting success, project progress to date, and future plans.

Get the Aspen-Pine in the Interior West PDF Paper Here

For questions, contact us.

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