Editor’s note: Ongoing climate change and drought due to industrial civilization are having a cumulative negative effect on aspen trees of the intermountain west. The world we live in is changing right before our eyes.
The disease, caused by fungal pathogens, is the result of a wetter-than-average May that has allowed the fungi to grow, according to U.S. Forest Service pathologist Elizabeth Hebertson. Hebertson said the condition is widespread throughout the intermountain West from Utah to Montana, and that 80 percent of the stands she has observed are infected.
“Almost in any given year, in any location, you can probably find infected aspen,” Hebertson said. “But this year was unusually high.”Manti-La Sal National Forest Moab-Monticello Ranger District Ranger Mike Diem told the Moab Sun News that we probably won’t see the same spectacular colors that we have in the past.
Stands along the roads to Geyser Pass and Oohwah Lake, and along the east side of the range on the flanks of South Mountain, have been particularly hard hit.
Diem said that under normal conditions, leaf blight isn’t a serious concern, and that affected trees should recover the following season. But, he said, prolonged drought conditions and factors associated with climate change have also likely had an effect.
“When you put it in conjunction with other stresses, it’s hard to say what the cumulative effects of something like this will be,” he said.
Diem said that aspen forests in the La Sal Mountains, as well as those in other areas of the Southwest, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the ravages of drought.