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Aspen Project Brings Fire Resilience, Wildlife to East ID Forest

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More aspen in Caribou-Targhee National Forest is expected to improve the habitat for ungulates, like moose. (Cathey Hardin/US Forest Service)
More aspen in Caribou-Targhee National Forest is expected to improve the habitat for ungulates, like moose. (Cathey Hardin/US Forest Service)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
June 19, 2020

ASHTON, Idaho -- A project is bringing aspen trees back to eastern Idaho, making a forest more attractive to wildlife and potentially more fire resilient.

Aspen regeneration will happen on nearly 50,000 acres of the Middle Henry's Fork Watershed in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, which borders Yellowstone.

Liz Davy, a ranger in the forest, says aspen are moist and therefore more difficult to burn than fir or pine trees.

"Fire, when it comes into those aspen plant communities, drops down to the ground, or the fire intensity gets lower," she explains. "And so, firefighters can get a better handle on that fire if they're trying to suppress it."

Aspen have declined in the area because of past fire suppression and logging practices.

Davy adds that conifers outcompete aspens for space in the forest, which has also hurt their comeback efforts.

Aspen are considered keystone species and so, their removal can lead to ecosystem changes.

Davy says more aspen will improve the habitat for the region's ungulates.

"So -- like moose, elk, mule deer -- because it's important in various stages of their life cycles," she states.

Matthew Ward, watershed manager in eastern Idaho for The Nature Conservancy, says the project has another benefit. Aspen leaves put on a beautiful show, turning yellow and orange in the fall.

"There's very little diversity in the stands because of past management practices and so, the aspen create more of a visual aesthetic, as well," he states.

The project is expected to kick off in mid-July.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy of Idaho contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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