No Aspens? Hotter Climate Endangers Rocky Mountain Forests: Study

Image: Aspens on Pikes Peak
Aspen leaves begin to turn Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, along the highway leading to the summit of 14,115-foot Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs, Colo.Christian Murdock / AP

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A hotter, drier climate — with resultant insect infestations and wildfires — could wipe out large stretches of forest in the Rocky Mountains in coming decades, with some tree species seeing range declines of more than three-quarters, according to a new report. The report (see it in PDF) from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization says that could hurt tourism in the Rocky Mountain states, with big effects on their economies.

The report said whitebark pines, pinon pines and quaking aspens will be especially hard-hit. Aspens could lose 77 percent of their habitat in the Rockies by 2060, the report said, with Idaho losing 97 percent of its aspen range. Previous studies have shown that tree mortality in the West’s old-growth forests more than doubled in recent decades and said warming temperatures were the likely cause. The new report also says a warming climate is causing the decline. It calls for concerted action to study the changes, address the vulnerability of communities that depend on the forests and reduce carbon emissions to slow the warming.

IN-DEPTH

— Gil Aegerter