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(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Liz Hebertson, entomologist, left, and Zachary Williams, forestry technician with the U.S Forest Service check the health of Aspen trees in the Pando Clone. It's an area of over 100 acres of Aspen trees that make up the world's largest living organism near Fish Lake in central Utah. The Pando Clone is not regenerating (sprouting small trees) making its continued existence in question.
House OKs adopting aspen as Utah tree

First Published Feb 19 2014 03:55 pm • Last Updated Feb 19 2014 10:24 pm

The House floor moved between science class and comedy hour before voting 54 to 19 to oust the blue spruce as the Utah state tree in favor of the quaking aspen. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

"Since 1933, the Utah state tree has been the Colorado blue spruce. This is a travesty," joked bill sponsor Rep. Brad Wilson. "The Colorado blue spruce makes up less than 1 percent of Utah’s forests and it is found only in northern Utah so if you are from southern Utah or Central Utah you should be even more incensed by this travesty."

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The Kaysville Republican said the aspen makes up 10 percent of Utah forests and is found throughout the state. He also said the tree is important food for livestock and water storage, provides habitat for hunting animals, and is seen in advertising to promote Utah. "The largest known organism on the planet Earth is actually located in Utah. It called the Pando aspen clone. It’s adjacent to Fish Lake and it covers 106 acres and it is made up of 47,000 aspen trees," Wilson said.

Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, asked if anyone was concerned that many consider the aspen to be a weed.

"They’re beautiful but I did plant some in my front yard and ended up having to tear them out because they took over everything," Layton said. "Or is that a good analogy for Utah, you can’t kill us and we’ll take over everything? Maybe we like that."

Wilson agreed that the aspen is an appropriate symbol for Utah, but in a different way.

"The aspen stems grow from roots of older trees," Wilson said. "This creates a very important metaphor that we could connect to Utah as these children of the parents grow and are very prolific."

Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, recalled visiting LaSalle Mountain and seeing aspen trees three and four feet in diameter.

"The aspens in Utah are a little unique and I don’t think there’s anywhere else where… the size of the aspen trees compare with those in Utah," Brown said.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, said she did not want to rain on any school children’s parade, but she has a constituent from the Utah Native Plant Society with some concerns about the bill. The Colorado blue spruce, she said, is actually just the blue spruce and Colorado did not adopt the blue spruce as its state tree until six years after Utah.

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"They copied us and not the other way around," Moss said.

Her constituent suggested the cottonwood as an alternative proposal. One reason is because there are many things in the state named after the cottonwood. She also noted that the aspen is just as iconic in Colorado as in Utah as shown by the city of Aspen, Colo.

Email: twebb@sltrib.com

Twitter: @topherjwebb

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