What's the world's largest living organism? A whale? An elephant? Nope, it's an aspen clone in central Utah that covers just more than 100 acres. The thing has a name, too: Pando, which is Latin for "I spread." Do you have an aspen in your yard? They are pretty trees but can be annoying when they send out shoots from their roots and make your yard look like you don't keep up with the weeds. According to the U.S. Forest Service, an aspen reproduces through its roots that grow into many genetically identical trees, resulting in a clone.
Sadly, Pando is dying as the older trees are reaching the end of their 150-year life, and it might be losing its first place ribbon as largest living organism to a fungus in Oregon. This decline in size is natural but scientists and ecologists warn there are very few younger trees emerging in Pando to replace the older ones. Some say it's the mule deer eating the young, nutritious aspen sprouts. When the old trees die, they lose leaves needed for photosynthesis. Without it, there's no energy to produce new sprouts. We actually are helping ol' Pando die, too, because the Forest Service doesn't allow roads or hunting in the area. Thus, the hungry deer have found a sweet refuge full of yummy sprouts. They have been trying to put up fences to keep the deer out, but the animals jump high and figure out how to get around them. If we killed off these deer, Pando might have a chance.
Near Pando, in the Manti-La Sal National Forest, there has been a massive death of trees. In the last two decades, bark beetles have killed off almost all of the spruce trees in a huge area above Mt. Pleasant to south of Ephraim. The Forest Service is about to embark on one of the largest logging projects in modern history to get that dead wood out and plant conifer seedlings. The wood will be used to build log homes, chopped for firewood or chipped for bedding used by local turkey growers.
It's warm outside now and we all love to head to the mountains to hike, bike or simply enjoy the views. When you're in forested areas, you can see the dead trees almost everywhere. Scientists tell us that bark beetles are on the rise due to climate change. What's super scary about their never-ending destruction is that forests of dead trees are fodder for wildfires. Remember last fall's fires in the West? Given the massive rains we've had this year, the underbrush is nearly triple the normal size we usually get. Those grasses and brush will dry out, meaning we could be headed for another bad fire season fueled by acres of dead trees. As Smokey Bear says, "Only you can prevent forest fires." Don't help start one.