By Paul Rogers, Utah State University
We often hear about the diverse values of aspen forests, but what evidence is there to support such assertions? Much of the "value" of aspen lies in its apparently innate beauty; a rich gold or fluttering green among the sea of conifer and sagebrush. Utah recently recognized aspen as its State Tree largely on the basis of esthetic appeal. Digging a little deeper, however, we can tap into, perhaps even monetize, other aspects of aspen worth. For example, aspen is among the most biodiverse vegetation types in the Intermountain West. Additionally, range managers are well aware of the high value forage resident among aspen groves. A diverse array of wildlife utilize aspen for cover, food, habitat, and water. There is some evidence that healthy aspen communities facilitate water conservation. Thriving beaver colonies create migrating water retention ponds, as well as raising water tables and increasing wildlife habitat. Aspen is valuable for a variety of wood products, including flooring, mine supports, particleboard, pet bedding, excelsior (wood fiber packaging and cooling devices), and ski/snowboard manufacturing. Aspen forests make for cherished camping and recreation destinations, popular ski resorts, and general tourism promotion. Finally, aspen may be used as a fire break via selective cutting or light burning around developed areas.
What is the value of aspen? Ask any westerner if they could go without it.
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