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Paul Rogers


Western Aspen Alliance

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Minnesota Aspen Through A Westerner's Eyes

Lars C. Snyder

Aspen of the Upper Midwest, growing amongst a large array of deciduous hardwoods such as birches, oaks, hazelnuts and maples, provide an example of stunning resilience. In Ely, Minnesota, gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, there are over a million acres of wilderness along the Canadian-U.S. border. One only finds glimpses of the aspen stands, however. These 80-foot tall trees are stunning examples of how quickly an area that has historically been fire-deprived and heavily logged can regenerate into beautiful and diverse ecosystems. Aspen regeneration was primarily caused by fire until the mid-to-late 1800’s. These aspen grew so fast and so thick they were actively logged and replaced with pine. The idea seemed great even by today’s logic; the old growth had been taken and it only seemed right to replace it with the more valuable trees. In February 2019, I moved to Ely. I expected the abundance of water and long winters to support healthy aspen stands. I found that the aspen here actually suffer a great deal. When I asked those I met about the species and its sudden die off, the common response was aspen don’t belong here in large numbers. However, as part of a U.S. Forest Service’s attempt to regenerate aspen, an agency fire engine captain told me they are having more trouble re-generating aspen after burns than they once did. Rather than aspen, red maple and oaks have become the dominant pioneer species.