From: Associated Press
Published August 3, 2006 12:00 AM

New Group to Try to Solve Aspen Mystery

POCATELLO, Idaho — A working group has been formed in southeastern Idaho to find out why aspen trees are disappearing.

"The trees are dying like they're supposed to do, but then something happens that is killing the root system out completely," Dale Bartos, an ecologist with the Rocky Mountain Research Station's Forestry Sciences Laboratory in Logan, Utah, told the Idaho State Journal.

"This is a big concern of a lot of people right now. I suspect it will be determined to be some type of disease that's in there."

Aspens send out suckers to create "clone" trees. But in many stands in the West, including southeastern Idaho, that process is not working. The group wants to figure out why.

The group is made up of workers with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Lands, Idaho Department of Agriculture, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, ecologists and concerned citizens.

"Right now, they're still building their mailing list," said Wendy Lowe, a consultant hired to run the meetings. "They have chosen to define their membership as anyone interested in participating. They're just getting started. The first thing they wanted to do is learn a lot more about it."

According to Fish and Game, aspen numbers in eastern Idaho have declined 65 percent in the past century. Records show that 45 percent of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in southeastern Idaho was once covered by aspens. Aspens now cover about 27 percent of the forest.

To try to help aspens, Fish and Game has killed conifers that compete with them for space, said Jennifer Jackson, a regional conservation educator with the agency. The Forest Service also has projects planned to help aspens return.

"The fire cycle has been interrupted," Jackson said. "Conifers have been encroaching on the aspen stands. Aspen communities are so important to wildlife species."

Bartos said that aspen stands tend to burn every 30 to 50 years, a process that causes new clone trees to grow. But Bartos said fire suppression has interfered with that process.

He said planting aspens is difficult in the wild. A better way to bring back aspens, he said, was to help existing populations by giving them additional space.

Source: Associated Press

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