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Pando in the spring

A Wall Could Save the World’s Largest Living Thing

There’s a lot of talk in the U.S. these days about building walls but there’s a wall being proposed that has nothing to do with the presidential race … although maybe it should since it deals with saving the life of the largest and oldest living thing in the U.S.  – actually, in the world.

We’re talking about Pando. Yes, the world’s largest creature has a name (although not a movie … yet). Pando is grove of aspens in Utah that looks like thousands of trees above ground but is actually one living organism connected below ground by a single root system. Pando covered 43 hectare (0.43 sq. km or 0.166 sq. miles) and is estimated to be anywhere from 2,000 to a million years old, but size and age don’t protect Pando from hungry deer and cattle, drought, disease and insects. Without help, Pando (Latin for ‘I spread’) may find that its days are numbered.

Quaking Aspen Pando Clone (Populus tremuloides), Wasatch Mountains, Utah, USA.

Pando in the spring

It’s falling apart on our watch. The old trees are dying, and the young ones are being eaten.

Paul Rogers of Utah State University and the Western Aspen Alliance has turned his concern into an action plan to save Pando’s life. Since it’s a conventional forest above the ground, Rogers’ plan partially involves conventional conservation measures like controlled burning to stimulate growth, removal of juniper bushes to give the aspens more room and cutting down mature trees to allow younger and stronger saplings to spread.

Moose and elk like eating Pando too

Moose and elk like eating Pando too

Those conventional methods worked, but not fast enough to save Pando, so Rogers decided to go unconventional. Three years ago, he and his team built a border fence around part (7 hectare) of Pando to protect it from its greatest enemy – aspen leaf-loving cattle. After just three years, the fenced-in area of Pando is 8 times as dense in new trees as the unprotected area.

It was a neat surprise that we can get pretty good results with fencing alone.

That summarized Rogers’ recent report to the North American Congress for Conservation Biology in Wisconsin. He also mentioned his concern about the cost of fencing in all of Pando. While not has long as the border wall being talked about by a certain presidential candidate, the wall around Pando must enclose 106 acres, so its length must be a little over 1.6 miles or 2.58 km.

Cow imagining wall

Cow imagining wall

Do we have a moral obligation to protect the America’s and the world’s largest creature? Perhaps the cattle ranchers whose non-native animals are killing it might consider kicking in a little to pay for the wall. Don’t ask that certain presidential candidate for his opinion because Pando can’t pay for the wall all by itself.

If only Pando could vote.

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