Tree vs. Tree: An Aspen Restoration Project

Lots of spirituality references in this story.. is it the Sunday effect?

“Like a steeple”
“All of a sudden, all conifers in an aspen grove are bad. And if they are not in a grove, you pray to them”
and (not excerpted)
“An aspen grove is a spiritual area,” said Mary Leavell, who ranches with her husband, Tom. “The way the sunlight slants through them – you get into a good grove and get a really nice feeling.”

Here’s a link to the story from the Sacramento Bee and below is an excerpt.

Like a steeple, the Jeffrey pine towers over other conifers and quaking aspen in the Tahoe National Forest north of Truckee.

Nearly 13 feet around at its base and believed to be about 250 to 300 years old, it has weathered every threat to come its way, including wildfire, drought, storms and logging.

Now it is slated to fall to a modern force: environmental restoration.

As part of a Forest Service effort to return Sierra forests to their pre-settlement glory, this tree is one of many conifers – large and small – the agency has designated for logging to help aspen, which its research shows is in danger.

“We need to be doing everything we can to help promote and foster these aspen stands,” said Quentin Youngblood, the Sierraville district ranger for the Tahoe National Forest. “And quite frankly, there are some tough choices.”

But as trees crash to the ground this summer, anger is growing among environmentalists and area residents who say the effort is heavy-handed and environmentally risky.

“I think they are going to destroy more than they are going to restore,” said Tom Leavell, a rancher whose cattle graze on Forest Service land in the logging zone. “Nature put everything together for a reason. As soon as we go in messing with it, something else happens.”

The project is part of a wider pattern. No longer is agency logging just about timber production. Now, it’s often aimed at healing past mistakes and restoring nature’s bounty.

Playing God with nature is often fraught with risk, of course. But what also makes some scientists uneasy about the Tahoe project is that the Forest Service is logging one cherished Sierra icon to help another.

“All of a sudden, all conifers in an aspen grove are bad. And if they are not in a grove, you pray to them,” said Bill Stewart, a forestry management specialist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s a little bit mind-bending.”

Cutting big trees has long stirred conflict in the Sierra, where the Forest Service limits most logging to trees less than 30 inches in diameter, but has left a loophole for aspen restoration, allowing even large, old trees to fall.

“This is not scientifically defensible,” said Chad Hanson, director and staff ecologist of the John Muir Project, an environmental group. “This is really just a very creative excuse to get some very large old-growth trees to the mill.”

Youngblood said that’s not the case. “We’re not taking any of the larger trees based on economics,” he said.

Note from Sharon: when I was a young sapling in the Forest Service, in the same years, we used wildlife money to remove conifers from aspen stands (not in the Sierra) and timber money to remove aspen from conifer stands. To those who don’t see the world improving through time, at least now there are not countervailing objectives…

2 thoughts on “Tree vs. Tree: An Aspen Restoration Project”

  1. This issue will produce lawsuits which the Forest Service will have a difficult time defending. Back in 1997, I went on a trip to look at rejuvenating an aspen stand on the Sierraville RD. I saw the value in thinning or removing the encroaching conifers but, realized that such a project would be inherently risky and controversial. Us on the west slope are dealing with a similar issue of clearing around oaks trees, to enhance their vigor, health and acorn production.

    Aspens have been impacted for far too long, with their wildlife benefits being undervalued. It is within our power to use a wide variety of techniques to improve habitat, including conifer removal. However, I would be resistant to removing large trees.

  2. I quess you are discussing natural patterns we seem to have forgotten. Aspen groves and Jeffery pine stands have nitches. On the other hand, fire supression obsuces or helps us foget the patterns as invasive conifers expand into aspen groves. The soil and landform helps us see the natural pattern. In a 4 H class, I might say aspen groves have dark bread basket soils, while pine stands have red leached soils that lack nutrition for cultivation. Luckily, the natural dimesions of aspen groves spring back after fires. So consider the soil landform clues and good luck on your fire renewal. Desi Zamudio


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