Aspen trees face challenges, but scientists not concerned

CACHE COUNTY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - Autumn is here and many people look forward to the beautiful pops of color provided by our state tree, the aspen. Unfortunately, while traveling through Summit or Wasatch counties, you may come across a clone of aspen that lack leaves or are dying. While it's a sad sight, experts say it should not be majorly concerning.
 
"We don't worry too much about things dying unless it goes from a state of episodic, once in a while, to chronic, every year," Paul Rogers, scientist at Utah State University, said.
 
Paul Rogers tracks aspen trees closely and says when the trees get stressed it actually reproduces from its own roots. Rogers said the trees are very good at dying, but equally as good a starting over and sprouting new buds. Our state trees face a host of challenges both in the wilderness and in our backyards.
 
"There's probably ten to 15 common fungi that affect aspen, there's five or ten insects that eat the leaves and bark so that's of concern," Paul Rogers, scientist at USU, said.
 
Drought and fire suppression can also take their toll on aspen. Wildfires spur growth among the species. Aspen trees also have a very thin skin and any minimal impact can leave the tree open for infection.
 
"You bump it with your lawn mower, it gets an opening or a wound, then it gets infected with all types of pathogens. Similarly with insects. They chew on the leaves and the bark. It's very good at getting sick and dying but then it has those sprouts coming up," Paul Rogers, scientist at USU said.
 
Rogers also said we are seeing a decrease in young, small aspen trees and says elk, deer and grazing livestock seek out the sprouts for food. Ideally, the sprouts can grow about three feet a year and live to be about 80 years old.
 
"For years and now decades, none of the young ones are surviving because they are being eaten off. They are very nutritional for animals, so that's a bigger concern not only in Utah but throughout the Western United States," Paul Rogers said.
 
While it may be alarming to see  group of trees without leaves this time of year, it's important to remember it's not a dire situation.
 
"We can't get to upset when they die because they are good at dying, but they are good t rebirth," Rogers said.

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