Earth’s Biggest Living Organism Is Dying

There is an impressive colony of trees in the state of Utah that is considered to be the largest living organism on planet Earth. Known more commonly as “Pando,” this cluster of 40,000-or-so trees naturally cloned from just one tree in Fishlake National Forest. “Pando” is Latin for “I spread,” which is very fitting of the 106+ acre, 13-million pound colony.

It may also be oldest—or among the oldest—living organism as Pando is believed to have first sprouted towards the end of Earth’s most recent Ice Age.

But while the massive size of this forest is notable, researchers from Utah State University say that mule deer and cattle have been found grazing nearby and this is preventing any new trees from growing. As old trees die off, then, this means the size of the colony is shrinking; and thus, Pando is dying, failing to replenish and self-reproduce over the last three or four decades.  Unfortunately, any attempts to prevent new wildlife from accessing the world’s oldest living organism—mostly be the installation of fences—have been wholly ineffective.

Indeed, Western Aspen Alliance Director Paul Rogers comments that the area is essentially collapsing under our watch. Also an adjunct faculty member with the Utah State Wildland Resources Department, he advises “One clear lesson emerges here: we cannot independently manage wildlife and forests.”

Instead, he suggests that it may be possible to save this iconic organism through “mega-conservation.”  Essentially, he argues that it is largely possible to reverse the decline.  He also contends, “People are at the center of that failure.”  It is people, he says, who have allowed the local deer and cattle population to grow and it is the voracious grazing of these animals that have prevented the growth of new saplings.  In addition, however, hunting has also seen a reduction in apex predators like bears and wolves and mountain lions, and that is the reason for the rise in the mule deer population.

Rogers goes on to say, “Humans decide on how many animals are there and how they move around.  Because there are people there recreating and having homes in the area and roads in the area, you’re not allowed to hunt. Because of human presence, deer are more safe, which causes a localized overabundance of the animals.”

And all Pando needs to survive is freedom from the grazers so it can simply regrow!