Earth Notes - Aspens Part II

Flagstaff, AZ – Mother Nature has been beating up on the Southwest's aspen trees but people are helping soften the blow.

Coconino National Forest silviculturist Patty Ringle has started a program called Adopt-an-Aspen Fence. The concept is simple: build fences around aspen groves that are already hammered by drought and disease. That way elk, deer and livestock can't munch new sprouts before they're tall enough to survive.

The Forest Service began fencing some of the most vulnerable groves in 2003. But it quickly became obvious that maintaining the fences is the hard part. Trees fall on them, snow pushes them down some people even cut them.

Adopt-an-Aspen Fence has since become a community program. Volunteers sign up to monitor and repair an adopted section of fence twice a year, in spring and fall. The Forest Service provides tools and training.

Community groups and businesses have been pitching in. The program got a huge boost last year when a group called Friends of Northern Arizona Forests adopted 24 fences and began coordinating volunteers. By now about 14 miles of fence ring 40 separate aspen groves.

Patty Ringle says the fences are a Band-aid for a long-term problem. The real solution for aspen loss, she says, is to reduce elk populations, stop the encroachment of coniferous trees, and reintroduce fire into aspen stands. The fences are a stopgap until forest managers can get there.

Next week, another project helps a uniquely situated aspen grove.

-Anne Minard