Quaking Aspen: a Burning Desire in an ‘Asbestos Forest’
Media reports of quaking aspen’s doom are common in the western U.S. We’re told aspen is dying ‘from Alberta to Arizona’ or that the future of aspen is bleak with projected climate change. “Aspen decline” - defined variously over recent decades by waves of prognosticators - is caused by cool wet climates, warm dry climates, fire suppression, livestock, elk, fir encroachment, rampant development, ozone, recreation, and radio waves. What is the actual situation with aspen and how might we expect this far-flung species to react to projected changes? Climate, in partnership with shorter-term weather events, has the strongest influence on wildfire occurrence. Many, not all, aspen forests will be subject to fire’s increasing influences as the climate heats up. In this presentation we will explore expected impacts on aspen ecosystems under changing climates, with an emphasis on aspen fire types. Secondarily, we will discuss aspen’s response to fire and how that varies considerably based on many factors. A broader aim is to emphasize unique fire-related systems and to wean practitioners from one-size-fits-all prescriptions for aspen forests.