State forest entomologist Dan West might technically be a bug specialist, but he also monitors every inch of Colorado by helicopter each year to track how things are going (with disturbances, as well as general growth with trees). It's partially why he's the one to ask about our fall colors, and how things are shaping up; this year, it's primed to be the best it has been in years.
"Aspens this year leading into the season did really well with the precipitation that we had," West explained. "A decent amount of snowpack and then the cooling effect in the spring, and we didn't have a big rapid warm up. Then it stayed fairly cool, which means you get that deep percolation of that water down through the soil column."
Keeping the Aspens well-watered is only a part of the situation, the weather itself if a huge factor as well as the amount of sunlight the trees are getting and for how long. Then, there's the obstacles they have to get through to have that brilliant fall display. Consider our trees perfect hurdlers this year.
"Much of our disturbances, the environmental conditions, didn't materialize for some of our aspen, particularly things that affect the leaves," West said. Fugus, which is usually one of the big issues for leaves (and what West said is the difference in why leaves don't look as good on the front range this year) flourishes in the hot, wet temperatures. Denver got plenty of rain and saw lots of heat, and therefor is still fighting the fugus, but the high country stayed cooler, and is skipping all that nonsense because of it.
Then, there's the comparison to years prior. West said he's seen around five inches of growth from aspens this year (compared to two each year in the last couple of years), and that kind of growth indicates healthy, happy trees (which produce leaves, which we love).
"Aspens from the air look greener and fuller than they've looked in maybe five years," West said.
As a reminder, the leaves begin to change further north in mid to late September (think Fort Collins, Steamboat Springs) and then the colors roll down like a window shade from there, through the middle of the state and Summit County in late September, finally the bottom of the state hitting early October. West said so long as you're driving into the mountains, you're going to get a great view.
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