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Removal of Encroaching Conifers to Regenerate Degraded Aspen Stands in the Sierra Nevada

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Address correspondence to K. W. Tate, email kwtate@ucdavis.edu

Abstract

Aspen is considered a keystone species, and aspen communities are critical for maintaining biodiversity in western landscapes. Inventories of aspen stand health across the Eagle Lake Ranger District (ELRD), Lassen National Forest, California, U.S.A., indicate that 77% of stands are in decline and at risk of loss as defined by almost complete loss of mature aspen with little or no regeneration. This decline is due to competition from conifers establishing within aspen stands as a result of modification of natural fire regimes coupled with excessive browsing by livestock. Restoration treatments were implemented in four aspen stands in 1999 using mechanical equipment to remove competing conifers to enhance the growth environment for aspen. Recruitment and establishment of aspen stems were measured in treated stands (removal of competing conifers) and non-treated stands (control) immediately prior to treatment and 2 and 4 years post-treatment. There was a significant increase in total aspen stem density and in two of three aspen regeneration size classes for treated stands compared to controls. Pre-treatment total aspen density was positively associated with total aspen density and density in all size classes of aspen (p < 0.001). The results demonstrate that mechanical removal of conifers is an effective treatment for restoring aspen.

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