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I am used to seeing stories on how either hunters or humans are to blame for everything from animal extinction to climate change that makes land or water inhabitable for creatures that have survived from long before man walked the planet.
Last week a story on mammoths caught my attention. Mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, giant sloths and dire wolves have always intrigued me, so it was natural for me to dig into the information.
The article began with the premise that mammoths on a remote island in Siberia were the last ones to survive from the ice age. Finally, a story that didn’t blame humans — until the last few paragraphs in which it states humans likely killed the final few as they moved to the island where the mammoths were living.
Again, such is the way of all articles regarding extinctions. And that is fine as there is reason to believe.
But the one that shocked me was another article about the world’s largest living organism.
The headline read that the largest living thing on Earth was dying. I knew immediately to which the entity was the article was referring, but I did not know it was dying. And naturally, I figured it would have something to do with man-made climate change.
The world’s largest living thing is a group of aspen trees in Utah. Roughly 40,000 clonal trees extend from the earth, weighing over 13 million pounds and extending over a range of 106 acres. How do a bunch of trees make a single organism? Well, they are all connected by the roots. Therefore, “they” is an “it” and rather than a forest it is a tree.
The article went onto explain that the tree first sprouted during the last ice age and had thrived since — that is, until 30 to 40 years ago. Somewhere along the 1980s, new growth was no longer sprouting. We are watching this ancient massive life form slowly die.
Of course, this had to be due to climate change. How else could this be explained?
Then the article turned. It wasn’t dying because of humans. It was dying because of deer. Wow! Deer were to blame instead of humans! Deer were eating the tops from the new saplings that sprang from the roots, thus killing the new growth.
Then the kicker hit. Humans were really to blame. Humans moved near the area where the giant tree grove lives (the tree is called Pando). Since humans lived and played in the area, apex predators such as bears and wolves and mountain lions moved away. Hunting was forbidden in the area. Without predators and hunting, deer began to thrive.
Because deer need to eat, they ate Pando’s new growth.
Scientists were able to determine this by counting the number of saplings each year along with the amount and type of scat found amongst Pando. Deer scat kept increasing and the saplings kept decreasing. Thus, the answer to why Pando was dying.
And once again, humans, particularly hunting humans, were primarily to blame for not killing the deer.
Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.