Visitors and hikers to Big Pine National Forest here at Knotty Pine will find there is gold missing from the forest. No gold thief or mining operation has taken any of the precious metal out of the hills around Knotty Pine. But many of the Aspen trees in the forest are dying, which means that much of the red and gold Aspen leaves that paint those hills this time of year will not be here this year. SAD, or Sudden Aspen Death, has struck Aspen groves in Big Pine National Forest north of Knotty Pine.
Chief Ranger Bill Jefferson tells the GAZETTE: "The US Forest Service has been aware of the problem of Sudden Aspen Death along the Rockies for the last few years. my rangers and I became aware of SAD in Big Pine late last year. We didn't know how widespread the problem was until late this summer when my staff performed it's annual areal photographic survey of the forest. We use the survey to locate and analyse the extent of problems like tree disease or soil erosion."
"It appears that we have several hundred acres of Aspens suffering from SAD. We will have to find the causes of the problem and begin to cut down and replace diseased trees."
"Aspens are only a small fraction of the trees in Big Pine National Forest but a large portion of the deciduous trees that provide the forest's fall foliage. Most of our trees are evergreens which tend to grow mostly in the higher elevations. The Aspens grow in the valleys along the forest's roads and trails."
Ranger Bill goes on to say: "Our success in protecting the trees from fire and disease may have worked against us with the Aspens. Many of our Aspens are 70 to 80 years old. We have been dealing with drought or near-drought conditions in the West for the last 8 to 10 years. Drought combined with age has stressed the forest's Aspens more than other trees. This has made them susceptible to disease. Our younger Aspens are doing relatively well at this time."
Ranger Bill expects that Aspen recovery and replacement will take several years. But he also believes that a full recovery from SAD is possible.