• Juniper encroachment in aspen in the Northwest Great Basin

      Wall, T. G.; Miller, R. F.; Svejcar, T. J. (Society for Range Management, 2001-11-01)
      In the northwest Great Basin, western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis subsp. occidentalis Hook.) is encroaching into aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) communities. There is a concern that aspen communities in this region are in a state of decline, but their status has not been documented. This study determined the timing, extent, and some of the effects of this expansion. Ninety-one aspen stands were sampled for density, canopy cover, age, stand structure, and recruitment of western juniper and aspen. Soils and tree litter beneath aspen and western juniper were collected to analyze the effects of western juniper on soils. Additionally, 2 large aspen complexes in southeast Oregon were intensively aged to determine disturbance (fire) frequencies. Western juniper encroachment peaked between 1900 and 1939 with 77% of all juniper trees sampled having been established during this period. Three-fourths of aspen stands sampled have established populations of western juniper. Twelve percent of aspen stands sampled were completely replaced by western juniper and another 23% dominated by western juniper. Average density of western juniper in aspen sites was 1,573 trees ha(-1). Seventy percent of aspen stands sampled had zero recruitment of new aspen. Aspen stands averaged 98 years old. There was an inverse correlation between aspen canopy cover and western juniper canopy cover. Soils influenced by western juniper had a higher C:N ratio, pH, salts, lime, and sulfate, and lower amounts of magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. Aspen litter had a lower C:N ratio than western juniper litter. Two major aspen complexes sampled had even-age, 2-tiered even-age, and multiple-age aspen trees. The absence of presettlement juniper within all sampled aspen stands suggests fire was the primary stand-replacing disturbance in these northwest Great Basin aspen communities. The lack of fire coupled with aspen stand decadence and low recruitment levels will allow for the continued encroachment and replacement of aspen communities by western juniper in the northwest Great Basin.