Earth Notes - Aspens Part III

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Aspens III

As resource managers work to stem the tide of dying aspen trees across the West, they may do well to look at a small grove tucked away at Navajo National Monument, a remote park on the Navajo Nation about 30 miles west of Kayenta.

The grove is only about four acres in size, nestled under red sandstone cliffs in the back of Betatakin (Beh-TOT-a-kin) Canyon. The aspens are rare for such low elevations, unique relicts of a cooler and perhaps wetter climate.

The grove was fenced off in the 1960s. Navajo National Monument was originally established to protect cliff dwellings, but even half a century ago, the aspen grove was deemed unique enough for protection.

In the past 10 years, that fence has proved to be a lifesaver. It hasn't kept older trees from succumbing to the drought that hit the region in the last decade. But by eliminating the threat of grazing livestock, it has allowed new growth to thrive and that should allow the grove itself to persist.

That's good news for emerging regional programs like Adopt-an-Aspen Fence, which seek to save imperiled groves in a wide range of locations. They'll face challenges if the region's climate changes as many experts predict.

If these signature trees of the Southwest mountains are to have a fighting chance, fencing may be one of their best weapons. It just might allow aspens' fluttering leaves to keep making music in summer breezes, and their golden hues to continue to keep the light warm in fall.

-Anne Minard