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Old 09-29-2007, 12:21 PM
8,317 posts, read 25,091,437 times
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Just another in a litany of bad news stories for Colorado forests is the rapid spread of "Sudden Aspen Decline" (SAD). Numerous areas in particularly in western and southern Colorado are experiencing major die-offs of aspen groves. Foresters are not sure of the reasons, though the prolonged drought of the last few years may be partly responsible. Since aspen prefer to reproduce by cloning from roots, the death of a clone (root system) of a mature grove may kill trees over dozens of acres. There appears to be nothing that can be done to stop the die-off. I personally have seen numerous areas in the state where formerly gorgeous fall displays of aspen colors are now hillsides of dead and dying trees. Sad.

My personal theory is that the die-off is a natural phenomenon that may have been set in motion by humans over a century ago. In most of Colorado, aspen is not a "climax" species. It is a "pioneer" tree that colonizes areas where the coniferous forest has been removed by fire or logging. In many areas of the state, coniferous forests were clear cut over a century ago to supply mining timbers, railroad ties, and lumber. Many of these areas were near mining towns that are now tourist towns (Telluride, Crested Butte, etc. come to mind). Aspen colonized those sites in many places. Now those aspen are 100-130 years old--just about the typical natural life span of an aspen tree. So, SAD just may be a lot of relatively even-aged stands of aspen dying of old age.

It's another case where what people's expectations of what the Colorado mountains are "supposed" to look like are likely to be dashed. And, another headache for the chamber-of-commerce types that promote a Colorado that, increasingly, is ceasing to exist.
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Old 09-29-2007, 03:51 PM
Location: Ohio
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And I thought it was just my twisted preception! It was realllly noticeable.. and that is SAD.
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Old 09-29-2007, 04:51 PM
Location: Boulder
151 posts, read 650,693 times
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Colorado is deteriorating in many ways (too many people, too much traffic, waaay too much polution poisoning the air, the land and our own bodies); we're collectively paving paradise and putting up a parking lot.

So all the more reason to enjoy it while we can. My DH and I hauled our horses up to Caribou Ranch (part of the Boulder Country Open Space Program) just north of Nederland on the Peak to Peak Hwy. Even though the day was overcast and the light less than ideal, some aspens glowed like they were lit from within. But some huge patches had just just turned brown.

All the preserved land here, be it National Parks, BLM land, National Forests, or locally bought green space, really is part of why Colorado is still so wonderful. And yes, I know the other side of the story -- saving some places just pushes the problems of over-population elsewhere. And that really is SAD.
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Old 09-29-2007, 05:35 PM
10,868 posts, read 41,128,193 times
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Much of the SAD die-off at this time has been linked to the drought situation and subsequent stress of approximately 4-5 years ago.

It's a natural result of the low amount of moisture, similar to the stress/decline/beetle infestastion of the pine trees in the area.

All the more reason to be putting logging roads in, clearing the forests in a controlled manner to save the healthy trees, and re-planting to control the growth and minimize the forest fire danger. The greater problem forest fires ... outside of immediate and total destruction of the habitat, structures, and wildlife ... will be the resultant loss of watershed areas.
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