The case for stand management guidelines as dynamic as global change: Aspen forest stockings of the western Great Lakes

Michael T. Carson, John M. Zobel, Dustin R. Bronson, Amanda M. McGraw, Christopher W. Woodall, Christel C. Kern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Since the development of contemporary stocking techniques a century ago, the combination of climatic, atmospheric, financial, and social factors that determine forest management strategies have changed, altering aspen stand dynamics in the western Great Lakes, USA. Despite this, aspen management is still informed by 1970s management guides that are based on 1920s inventories; hence, a century exists between the data that underlie current management guidelines and current stand conditions. We hypothesized that current aspen stands may support higher stocking and height growth than nearly a century ago at relatively similar age and site indices, due to increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations and fertilization, intensive coppice harvests, and other factors. To explore this question, we compared historic aspen observations with comparable contemporary data from the USDA Forest Service's Forest Inventory and Analysis program. The results show increased stand stocking levels as well as increased height growth of aspen throughout the region over the historic inventory data. Although other controlled experimental studies support the hypothesis of increased carbon fertilization altering aspen size-density relationships, our study is the first to examine an empirical application to forest management guides. Our results suggest a comprehensive reevaluation of aspen growth dynamics under contemporary environmental conditions is warranted. We highlight the need to assess the value of current stocking standards in an era of increasingly variable environmental conditions and to reimagine a more dynamic, responsive, and predictive approach to guide forest management for future application as global change may accelerate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number120905
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - May 15 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier B.V.


  • Aspen management
  • Carbon fertilization
  • Climate change
  • Management guidelines
  • National Forest Inventory
  • Stocking levels, site index


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