© Mike Norton (Colorado)

Aspen Forests

Many people don't realize that aspen trees form clumps of clones by suckering from underground root systems.  Often what appears to be a stand of many trees is actually only one individual tree with many stems.  This survival strategy makes aspen well-suited to re-sprouting after large-scale disturbances such as the forest fires that can be so common in some Colorado summers.  

Rarity in Aspen Forests

Most of the species that call aspen forests home are relatively abundant and not of significant conservation concern.  Typical species of this system include:  purple martin, northern goshawk, red-napped woodpecker, Williamson’s sap sucker, boreal owl, olive-sided flycatcher, flammulated owl, band-tailed pigeon, and dwarf shrew. 


Overall, aspen forests in Colorado are in good condition.  Much of Colorado's aspen forest is owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service.  This system is not as well represented in the nation's Wilderness system as the alpine and spruce-fir ecological systems.  Primary human activities in this ecological system include cattle and sheep grazing, recreation, and hunting.  Some aspen stands are cut for pulp mills (for the making of composite boards such as plywood).  Threats to the aspen forests ecological system are comparatively low.  However, in some areas of the state, sudden die-offs of aspen stands have been observed (referred to as "sudden aspen death").  The cause(s) of this die-off are unknown and research is on-going.  At this time, sudden aspen death is not widely distributed across the state.  However, there is potential for this condition to pose a more significant threat to our aspen forests in the future.  For the time being, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program and The Nature Conservancy consider aspen forests to be moderately well conserved.  Click here  to review Colorado's Biodiversity Scorecard for additional information.

Additional Resources

Colorado Natural Heritage Program ecological system description

click here

NatureServe Explorer ecological systems profiles

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Colorado State Forest Service

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