Darin Stringer and his son, Ethan, check the diameter of a sick-and-dying aspen in the Glaze Forest Restoration Project.photo by Jim Anderson
Darin Stringer and his son, Ethan, check the diameter of a sick-and-dying aspen in the Glaze Forest Restoration Project.photo by Jim Anderson

"If it isn't cows eating young aspen, it's elk," said Tim Lillebo of Oregon Wild, early in 2013, pointing to damage to cloning aspen, as he, Maret Pajutee, forest ecologist for the Sisters District, and Darin Stringer, forester and owner of Pacific Stewardship, looked at the sad condition of aspen in Glaze Meadow.

Stringer also noted that young conifers were crowding the aspen.

Between elk damage and infiltration by other trees, foresters worry that they may lose the signature aspen grove readily seen from Highway 20 near Black Butte Ranch.

In 2008, the Glaze Forest Restoration Project was approved and the restoration plan moved forward thanks to the Forest Service, Oregon Wild, The Warm Springs Tribes, and other partners. In 2012, Darin Stringer and his crew thinned small conifers along Indian Ford Creek.

The Forest Service laid out aspen thinning units, and during felling, great efforts were made to protect existing aspen sprouts and wetland areas, while "opening up" the stands to more sunlight and water. Felled conifers were limbed and slash (burn) piles made, while retaining the trunks of the thinned trees for later use as fence material.

Lillebo stated that Stringer is doing an excellent job of removing young conifers, literally giving the aspen breathing room. His crew's careful handwork cutting and piling young lodgepole and ponderosa pine, while leaving mature and old ponderosa pine, is paying off. Lillebo pointed out that ponderosa pine and aspen occur naturally together and provide a combination habitat that provides richer biological diversity than just one species alone.

Unfortunately, like cows, deer and elk also love to eat young aspen, and as aspen stands reestablish themselves each area will be evaluated by the Forest Service to see if fencing is needed for protection from wildlife browsing. Evaluation will also occur to determine if fire should be reintroduced to promote aspen.

Nearly 23 acres (85 percent of the aspen unit) do not meet desired vegetation conditions. The weak overall condition of aspen suckers is due to two factors:

Too much shade; and excessive and persistent browse, primarily by elk.

This was particularly alarming to Lillebo, who believes aspen are one of the richest biological assets to the Glaze Meadow ecosystem: "I love quaking aspen, as do a variety of birds and other wildlife."

After discussing the various ways to bring the aspen stand back to life, Lillebo, Pajutee, and Stringer agreed that thinning the encroaching pines and fencing out the herds of elk would be the solution to bringing the aspen ecosystem back to life.

As the work progressed, Stringer began to notice the amount of sapsucker activity - a woodpecker-like bird that creates sap wells (holes in the bark).

Sapsuckers, because of their method of obtaining the sweet sap of trees, are not looked upon with kindness by some foresters - but their role in forest health in destroying harmful insects that come to the sap wells is one that needs more attention.

Sapsuckers form the genus Sphyrapicus, within the woodpecker family Picidae, and are found throughout North America. As their name implies, sapsuckers feed primarily on the sap of trees, moving among different tree and shrub species on a seasonal basis. Insects, especially those attracted to the sweet sap exuding from sap holes, are often captured by other bird species and fed to the young during the breeding season.

One of the more remarkable sights is to watch hummingbirds feeding on the sweet fluids seeping from the sap wells. It's a well-known fact that hummers feed on nectar in flowers, but what the observer doesn't see are the numbers of insects also taken while the hummer is sipping nectar. When they come to the sap wells one can not help but notice the great number of gnats, tiny beetles, and flies hummers take while sipping.

Tim Lillebo said, "The work looks great, and more areas will be thinned this year to bring back the glorious aspen of Glaze Meadow and Black Butte Swamp. Results will be monitored, and hopefully the Glaze Project will be used as a model for future aspen and stream-side restoration in the dry forests of eastern Oregon."