Bringing aspens back | SierraSun.com

Bringing aspens back

Kara Fox and David Bunker
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunThe California State Parks will remove conifers in the Tahoe Basin to help aspen stands grow and flourish.

A slow battle between species is occurring in Tahoe forests.

It’s a battle for light, nutrients and, ultimately, life. And the pines and firs have been winning the battle for years, choking out aspens, alders and willows.

But this spring, an army of foresters is scheduled to give the embattled aspen stands some help. They will clear thick stands of firs and pines on 200 acres across five California state park parcels around Tahoe.

The thinning will help the stream- and wetland-dependent hardwoods grow back into areas that have become unnaturally thick with conifers, partly because natural wildfires no longer burn in the Tahoe Basin.

“There will be one or two aspens left in a stand because they are surrounded,” said Tamara Sasaki, an environmental scientist with California State Parks. “They don’t get light or nutrients they need.”

Land managers predict the work will quickly regenerate the dying stands.

Recommended Stories For You

“There has been a focus on aspen regeneration in the basin for sometime,” said Ken Anderson, acting district superintendent of the California State Parks Sierra District. “Hardwood species are important to provide diversity of wildlife. Aspens have been a focus because of the overtopping of conifers. They are disappearing.”

Aspen act as one organism because their root systems connect. If one aspen tree loses nutrients, it starts to take it from another tree, affecting the entire stand.

Because aspens typically grow by streams with alders and willows and help keep the streams clean by filtering runoff, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board have become concerned with the aspen deaths, Anderson said.

“It is a concern throughout the West trying to save these aspen stands,” Anderson said.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which regulates drinking and irrigation water across the nation, provided $285,500 in grants to California State Parks for the project because of the efforts benefit to water quality.

“It’s going to improve [the areas] where there is a lot of sedimentation,” said Jeff McCracken, spokesman for Bureau of Reclamation. “This might be the first [project in which we’ve been] as active as this.”

Additionally, state parks will remove approximately half of a mile of unnecessary roads and skid trails that cause erosion into streams, Anderson said.

The conifer removal will begin in the spring and continue for a couple of seasons, Anderson said.

“The improvement will be seen almost immediately,” Anderson said. “The aspens respond really quickly.”

The pines and firs will be removed by hand to guard against erosion near streams and to protect vegetation, according to the environmental document prepared for the project.

If there is a deep snowpack, heavy equipment will be used over snow at Sugar Pine Point, D.L. Bliss and Washoe Meadows state parks to remove timber without disturbing the soil. However, more snow is needed this year to consider that option, Sasaki said.

Anderson said that only small to medium conifers will be removed.

Burton Creek State Park

D.L. Bliss State Park

Sugar Pine Point State Park

Washoe Meadows State Park

Ward Creek

Copies of the Riparian Hardwoods Restoration and Enhancement Project environmental document can be viewed at the Tahoe City Library, 740 North Lake Blvd.; at the Sierra District Office in Sugar Pine Point Sate Park in Tahoma; or online at http://www.parks.ca.gov. Public comments on the document are welcome until Feb. 3 to Tamara Sasaki, California Department of Parks and Recreation, Sierra District Resources Office, P.O. Box 16, Tahoe City, CA 96145.