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Needles on dying blue spruce turning brown

We are officially in the midst of consecutive years of severe drought in our part of Colorado, and the effects are starting to become noticeable in the park. The northern part of the park is mostly unirrigated. A few playing field areas get watered but the rest is left to survive on natural precipitation. This, of course, varies from year to year, but some of the park’s longer term residents are starting to show the symptoms of our increasingly drier climate.

If you’ve recently spent much time in the park, you may have noticed new stumps and piles of sawdust. Sadly, many dead and failing trees have been cut down. I’m not talking about newer trees that just didn’t get established (though we’ve lost many of those over the past few years). These trees are/were large and established and include the following (WARNING – if dead tree photos make you squeamish – read no further!):

green ash (moderate water users)- no photo
plains cottonwood (a tree that needs quite a bit of water)

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Plains cottonwood stump

Douglas fir (low-to-moderate water users)

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Douglas fir stump

and ponderosa pine (low water users)

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Ponderosa pine stump

I’m not advocating adding irrigation to this part of the park, but I suspect that the drought may eventually claim the rest of the moderate-to-high water using trees in this part of the park – including spruces. I’ve always been surprised at the number and size of cottonwoods in this part of the park. Cottonwood roots need direct access to water for the tree to survive. Some of the cottonwoods are growing along the edge of the Boddington playing field, an area that used to be a reservoir that would have provided their needed water earlier in their lives. (And these trees are starting to fail.) However many others are planted aren’t near the old reservoir, making me wonder if there is some sort of underground spring in the park. Fortunately, the new trees that Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation has been planting the past few years are highly drought tolerant – pinon pine, ponderosa pine, etc.

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