If Utah were not governed by people who think ecosystems can survive without predators, this might not be so much of a problem.
But one of the largest and most ancient living organisms on the planet is in danger of going away — in our state, on our watch — for want of some wolves, cougars and bears. Or about $60,000 worth of fence.
It’s called the Pando. About 100 acres of quaking aspen trees that rise out of a single root system, near Fish Lake in Utah’s Sevier County. It has existed, probably, for thousands of years, part of a balanced biological environment that has supported, and has been supported by, many other forms of life, plant and animal, predator and prey.
Now, because we’ve killed or otherwise run off the predators that naturally live in the area, the resulting explosion of herbivores, specifically mule deer, has led to a situation where the Pando itself may soon be no more.
Hungry deer happily munch on the aspen sprouts, frustrating nature’s plan to populate the forest with new trees. Trees too strong to be mowed down by wandering ungulates are safe, of course.
But many of them are 100 years old and not likely to survive much longer. Like any living community, if the old aren’t replaced by the young, the entire system becomes unsustainable.
As is often the case in Utah, the unique beauty and value of the Pando seems more appreciated by outsiders than by the locals. Its reputation among outdoorsy eco-tourists is reportedly growing just as local scientists and land managers are lamenting the fact that its days — well, years — may be numbered.
One short-term answer isn’t all that natural or attractive, but it could help. And that’s to build about 12,000 feet of fence around the grove to keep out not only the increasing population of deer but also the cattle that graze in the area and sometime wander through.
It is the kind of artificial action we are left with in a state where people who do not understand basic biology spend millions in taxpayer money to preserve the unnatural and unhealthy paucity of predators, particularly wolves.
What we have so foolishly done is remove the creatures that were here long before we were. That didn’t have to deal with any foolish human debates over how the natural world should be “managed.” That just followed their instinct in maintaining the balance of nature by means of, in their eyes, lunch.
So, by all means, build the fence. And see if the Pando, and any of the rest of Utah, can survive to a day when nature is respected rather than brought to heel.