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LOGAN, Utah (AP) — A massive aspen grove is still deteriorating despite fencing designed to keep out mule deer that have been blamed for chewing the trees, a new study says.
Two Utah State University professors surveyed the colony known as Pando, which consists of more than 40,000 trees with a shared root system and is considered the world's largest living organism, the Logan Herald Journal reported last week. The pair found some fencing constructed in 2013 has effectively protected it, but additional barriers put up in 2014 haven't worked as well.
The fence has been damaged by falling trees, allowing the deer back inside, Utah State University extension professor Darren McAvoy said. The news is disappointing for him and research partner Paul Rogers, director of the Western Aspen Alliance and a USU adjunct faculty member.
"Let's do something to fix this," Rogers said. "If this thing's so big, and it's been around a long time, and it's all of a sudden collapsing in our time, that makes us interested in saying, 'What's going wrong, and how do we need to turn that around and fix the situation?'"
The researchers looked this year at 65 sample plots across Pando, which is in central Utah's Fishlake National Forest near Richfield. They documented and compared factors including new growth, animal scat, browsing from animals, older trees' size and life status.
They found "a deteriorating situation" for Pando, except for the parts inside experimental fencing erected in 2013.
Fishlake National Forest spokesman John Zapell wasn't surprised. He said officials have done little management work on the parts of the grove inside the 2014 fence. To keep it intact, forest managers will have to patrol the area, repair the fence and cut any trees that could damage the barrier, he said.
The name Pando is Latin for "I spread." The colony originated from a single seed hundreds or even thousands of years ago and now consists of over 40,000 genetically identical trees that collectively weigh over 13 million pounds (6 million kilograms).
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