Environmental change happens slowly and its often hard to notice. Is it unusually warm? Was runoff different 20 years ago? Were there elk at Hallam Lake in the 1950s? The only way we can answer these questions in the future is to start recording data today.

At ACES, we’re working with our partners to make sure future scientists, naturalists, and educators have that information for the Roaring Fork Valley. Our efforts thus far include: wildlife cameras at Hallam Lake, repeat photography and a stream gauge on the Roaring Fork River, an osprey nest camera in near Emma (partnership with Pitkin County and Holy Cross Energy), repeat sound recordings of Hallam Lake (partnership with Thompson Bishop), and support for Aspen Global Change Institute’s iRON soil moisture monitor network.


                             May 4, 2016                                                                    May 4, 2017
Roaring Fork River on May 4, 2016 and 2017. Repeat photography provides qualitative data
on differences in plants, snowpack, and water level from year to year.

Hunter Smuggler Cooperative

Forests on the wildland-urban interface are some of the most impacted by human activity and pose the greatest wildfire risk to communities.

In 2014, the USFS approved a 20-year stewardship plan submitted by ACES for the Hunter Smuggler area. Since then, ACES, the City of Aspen, Pitkin County, the USFS, and Wilderness Workshop have partnered to complete several restoration projects aimed at improving wildlife habitat, restoring forest health, and reducing wildfire risk. Past work has included lodgepole thinning and treatment on Smuggler Mountain, oak mastication, and a 900-acre prescribed burn in Hunter Valley. All of these efforts have been paired with monitoring to measure the efficacy of our efforts.

The Smuggler Cooperative is made up of representatives from Pitkin County, City of Aspen, USFS, Wilderness Workshop, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, and Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association.

Forest Health Index (FHI)

Each day a combination of on-the-ground sensors and satellites produce multiple terabytes of global climate data- the equivalent of more than 2 billion pages of text.

While much of this information is publicly available, it’s often hard to find and even harder to interpret. The FHI combines climate data with a variety of other information and explains its relevance to forest health. Since its inception, the FHI has been used in schools and by the public to understand what’s happening to their local forest. Over the next year, we plan to continue working with the Aspen Global Change Institute to expand the FHI across the western slope of Colorado.

Forest Forecasts

Shifts in temperature and precipitation, as a consequence of climate change, will inevitably alter landscapes.

One of the major changes will be which species of trees grow where. Already, we’re seeing low elevation in south-facing slopes in Colorado shift from aspen forest to scrubland. ACES, in partnership with the University of Arizona, created the Forest Forecast Model, a revolutionary tool that uses climatological records, species observations, and climate models to visualize what the forest of tomorrow might look like. By simply selecting a species, users can visualize how a tree’s distribution might change under different climate scenarios over the next 75 years.