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Climate change is becoming more apparent here in the Roaring Fork Valley. From smoke to drought, we're still understanding how it all affects our community. But how do trees fit into the big picture? Our news team is trying to answer that question by examining the unique relationship between our valley's trees and the climate crisis. Support for In the Woods comes from The Longview Foundation of Minnesota.

Aspen trees are threatened by climate change, but some people say there are ways to preserve future groves

Every fall, visitors and locals alike flock to the Rocky Mountains to bask in the golden glow of the aspen groves, but the human-caused climate crisis is putting trees at risk across the West, including the “quaking aspens” in the Roaring Fork Valley.

In Colorado and across North America, these trees have been dying in large numbers from a phenomenon called sudden aspen decline, or SAD.

“We followed a lot of the Forest Service work, and increasingly, the signs pointed more and more towards drought. And climate change makes drought worse,” said William Anderegg, a biology professor and research scientist at the University of Utah.

Much of the Colorado River Basin remains in a drought, and climate scientists predict a hotter, drier future.

“It's pretty clear that nowhere in the West is going to be immune from this," Anderegg said. "No forests are necessarily going to be completely untouched or resilient to it.”

With that in mind, the U.S. Forest Service is proposing an effort called the White River Aspen Management Project. Of the 600,000 acres in the White River National Forest, the agency has identified 375,000 where it could treat aspens with prescribed burns and tree harvesting, including areas in the Roaring Fork Watershed.

In the last installment of Aspen Public Radio’s series "In the Woods," reporter Eleanor Bennett talked with people who keep a close eye on our aspen groves to find out what, if anything, can be done to protect the city of Aspen’s namesake.

Support for "In the Woods" comes from The Longview Foundation of Minnesota.

Eleanor is an award-winning journalist and "Morning Edition" anchor. She has reported on a wide range of topics in her community, including the impacts of federal immigration policies on local DACA recipients, creative efforts to solve the valley's affordable housing crisis, and hungry goats fighting climate change across the West through targeted grazing. Connecting with people from all walks of life and creating empathic spaces for them to tell their stories fuels her work.