Hunter Smuggler Results

In May 2016, ACES, Pitkin County, the City of Aspen, Wilderness Workshop, and the United States Forest Service (USFS) conducted a prescribed burn in the Hunter Creek area. The burn was part of a larger effort to improve forest health and wildlife habitat in the Hunter Smuggler area.

The prescribed fire specifically targeted areas densely populated by aspen trees and Gambel oak, with the goal of thinning dense stands, promoting the growth of new aspen trees, and increasing age diversity. Compared to many of the surrounding forest types, aspen forests are hotbeds of biodiversity supporting a large range of flora and fauna. Mature aspens produce a hormone in their root system that suppresses the growth of new trees. When mature trees die the production of that hormone stops and the root system sends up a large number of new trees called suckers.

To monitor the impacts of the prescribed fire on aspen suckering, ACES and our partners contracted Dr. Jason Sibold, a forest biogeographer from Colorado State University to quantify and monitor the results of the fire. In summer of 2015, Dr. Sibold and his team randomly selected 60 10 x 20 meterplots in the planned burn area and adjacent to the planned burn area. Of the 60 plots, 21 burned and 39 did not. In August 2016, the plots were resampled to determine if the fire had a significant impact on new aspen growth. Initial results show success stimulating new aspen growth. On burned plots, there was an increase of 2,384 suckers per acre compared to an increase of 65 suckers per acre in unburned areas. The results showed a strong correlation between the percent mortality of mature aspen trees following the fire with the increase of aspen suckers per acre. The two plots with 100% canopy mortality had by far the greatest increase in suckering with increases of 12,000 and 14,000 suckers.

While the initial results are positive, the end goal will be to see many of the new aspen suckers recruited to the canopy. Over the coming years, we’ll continue to monitor the 60 study plots for changes.