The student news site of Aspen High School


The student news site of Aspen High School


The student news site of Aspen High School


Aspen Tree Carvings: A Silent Threat to Nature’s Beauty

Greta Holton
Human-induced carvings on an Aspen Tree in the Roaring Fork Valley.

This fall of 2023, the iconic yellow leaves of the Aspen trees are predicted to be seen less and less. As the population decreases and the mountains become more sparse, the “hopeless romantics” who carve hearts into trees (it is not as romantic as you think) unconsciously become cereal killers.

When living in a highly visited mountain town, it is common to see the natural beauty being mistreated, especially when hiking the local trails and being surrounded by a future graveyard of Aspen Trees, bleeding out sap from carvings. It may seem cool to put your initials with those of your long-distance, low-commitment, casual significant other onto a tree, but from everyone else’s perspective, it is not. In reality, tree cuts are very similar to humans. It is the same as a cut to the human arm, opening a portal for infection.

Depending on how deep the cut is, it may disrupt the cells below the bark, phloem, and xylem that are responsible for transporting water, sugar, and other nutrients throughout the tree. Carving or other bark damage can cause the tree to starve to death due to this cellular disruption. Overall, it kills the living organism that literally holds up the town of Aspen.

Carving on trees is another form of graffiti, except for the fact that the carvings are permanent and cannot be undone. Whoever carved on the tree has forever changed the scenery and the course of the entire ecosystem. Another factor is the chain reaction that starts once other visitors see these carvings and think it is alright to carve on the trees. Which leads to more damage and eventually the deaths of multiple living organisms.

Aspen bark is not like the bark of a pine tree Douglas fir or any other conifer. Their white trunks don’t have a protective, rough shield. It is noticeable that even your fingernail can penetrate the top layer of bark, easily breaking that green layer of chlorophyll. Which is a natural delicacy to many creatures, including a slew of beetles. Aspen Borer beetles are known for attacking Aspen trees. They target stressed trees to lay their eggs in cracks and crevices of the bark. The injury is escalated by the larvae feeding on the inner wood of the trunk. Their tunneling weakens the wood and allows the invasion of canker and decay.

According to Utah State University, “An opening in the bark is an opening for fungi”. Healthy bark is resistant to infection. In general, fungi infect a tree through dying twigs, cracks at branch unions, or access made by insects. It grows first through the wood and then into the bark, killing cells as it spreads into healthy tissue. The fungus continues to colonize the tree and eventually girdle it. Girdling is killing a tree without actually cutting it down, in the case of beetles and fungi. Many trees are connected through an underground fungal network. These networks can spread diseases one tree has incurred from the damage to the bark from carvings. On most trees, the bark will scab over similar to human skin. All factors eventually leading to the death of the Aspen tree within three to eight years.

In all seriousness carving on trees can get someone into trouble, and possibly arrested. Technically as of right now, there is no specific law against carving initials in a tree. However, there is a law against vandalism. And that’s what carving initials in a tree is. Especially illegal in US National Parks and National Forests, as well as other protected spaces. Vandalism punishable by fines of up to $500 and even jail time. Making someone look even less cool after they decided carving a tree is a romantic date idea.

Trees do not deserve to be carved on for the enjoyment of others. They are the foundation of Aspen’s ecosystem as well as several other communities around the country. Trees provide so many aspects for local ecosystems (like oxygen) and if all the trees disappeared, life would literally not be possible. Especially living at a high altitude, towns do not have a large amount of oxygen. Why make it even harder to survive for all living organisms? Spread awareness and prevent tree carvings. If you see any “hopeless romantics” carving a large heart into a tree, educate them on the murder they are committing.

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Greta Holton, Staff Writer

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