Bringing Back the Color

aspen groveAspen emblazon the landscape with yellows and oranges each fall. However, over the last 150 years, stands have declined by as much as 95% due to fire exclusion, grazing, and drought. We are restoring these trees, which provide habitat to over 70 species of wildlife, and learning more about their decline.

In 2000, we began to restore aspen in Wallowa County with the US Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and private landowners. To promote sprout regrowth in degraded aspen stands, we built fences around them to exclude browsing animals such as deer, elk, and livestock. We also thinned competing conifers and applied prescribed burning. With our partners, we have built over 50 aspen enclosures with more than 8 miles of fence since 2000.

Are the Colors Coming Back?

To determine the effectiveness of our restoration techniques, we monitor birds, which are easy to study and respond quickly to change. We hope to secure more funding for our monitoring efforts in order to learn how our restoration efforts improve aspen stands. Results suggest that restoration has increased 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.
    • When equippe with woven wire on the bottom two rungs that stopped deer from crawling under, buck and pole fences also deterred browsers.
    • Barbed wire fences, the shortest 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 baseline data about birds and habitat. 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 been unable to secure funding for this work.

Bring Back the Colors on Your Land!

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

  • If you find heavily browsed sprouts, build a fence to keep out deer, elk, and 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.