Year Published: 2017
Description: Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) is being stressed across the America West from a variety of sources including drought, herbivory, fire suppression, development, and past management practices. Rich assemblages of plants and animals that utilize aspen forests, as well as economic values of tourism, grazing, hunting, and water conservation, make aspen ecosystems among the most valuable vegetation types in this region. The 43-ha Pando clone near Fish Lake, Utah, is an iconic example of an aspen community undergoing rapid decline due to overstory mortality and chronic recruitment failure. As part of a larger project to restore Pando, we fenced, treated, and monitored a portion of this famous grove with the intent of documenting regeneration responses and using such practices at larger scales. Twenty-seven randomly stratified monitoring plots were placed across this landscape in order to better understand herbivory and regeneration responses to distinct treatment categories: protected and unprotected, and passive (fenced only) and active (burning, shrub removal, selective overstory cutting) treatments. At each site, we measured basal area and mortality on mature trees, made counts of juvenile and intermediate suckers, documented browse levels and herbivore scat presence, and characterized environmental conditions in terms of aspen and common juniper cover, treatment type, elevation, slope, and aspect. Our results confirmed a positive regeneration response to browsing cessation after fencing, whereas non-fenced areas showed no improvement. Within the fence, there was a significantly better response of active treatment vs. passive and there was no significant difference between treatment types in terms of level of regeneration. Both active and passive management produced regeneration levels that were sufficient to replace dying canopy trees if managers continue to protect suckers until they exceed the reach of browsers. These results support a growing body of research suggesting managers need to invest in continuous protection from herbivory in stable aspen forests, as well as targeting additional post-treatment protection, to ensure adequate regeneration. We examine ramifications of these results for broader restoration purposes in the remainder of Pando, as well as other aspen communities regionally, with the ultimate goal of restoring ecological process toward greater ecosystem resilience.