Natural Areas Journal
Natural Areas Association
Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) forests are experiencing numerous impediments across North America. In the West, recent drought, fire suppression, insects, diseases, climate trends, inappropriate management, and ungulate herbivory are impacting these high biodiversity forests. Additionally, ecological tension zones are sometimes created where the above factors intermingle with jurisdictional boundaries. The public-private land interface may result in stress to natural areas where game species find refuge and plentiful forage at the expense of ecosystem function. We examined putative herbivore impacts to aspen forests at Wolf Creek Ranch (WCR), a large residential landscape in northern Utah. Forty-three ha-1 monitoring plots were established to measure a range of attributes summarizing location description, tree and vegetation condition, and herbivore presence. Additionally, we tested the ability of a stand-level visual rating system to represent more detailed field measures. Elk (Cervus elaphus L.) herbivory is currently having a strong effect on aspen in the study area, reducing many locations to single-layer aspen forests dominated by aging canopy trees. Regeneration (< 2 m stems) is experiencing moderate-to-high browse and recruitment (2 - 6 m stems) are below replacement levels on approximately half of WCR's aspen forests. The condition rating system represented significant trends in forest cover, canopy height, stand aspect, regeneration, recruitment, and tree mortality. Ordination of all plot and forest data found a strong negative relationship between elk presence and recruitment success. We make recommendations for addressing difficult herbivore-aspen interactions where publicly managed wildlife a present barriers to conservation of privately owned forest reserves.
Rogers, P.C.; Catlin, J.; Jones, A.; Shuler, J.; Morris, A.; Kuhns, M. 2014. Quaking Aspen at the Residential-Wildland Interface: Sustained Elk Herbivory Hinders Forest Conservation. Natural Areas Journal.