SALT LAKE CITY - It came with a few laughs, but the bill that changes Utah's state tree from the blue spruce to the quaking aspen cleared its final hurdle on Wednesday and is now making its way to Gov. Gary Herbert's desk.
Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, the house sponsor of the bill, could barely hold back his laughter as he gave his initial presentation on the legislation on the House floor. He said other House members on the floor kept making comments to make him bust out laughing, which prohibited him from being able to make a more controlled pitch for the bill.
"Since 1933 the Utah state tree has been the Colorado blue spruce. This is a travesty," Wilson said. "The Colorado blue spruce makes up less than one percent of Utah's forests and is found only in northern Utah ... the quaking aspen, however, makes up 10 percent of Utah's forests and it is found across many of Utah's borders."
From that point on, Wilson could not control his case of the giggles as House members continued to attempt to get him to break out in laughter. He finally gave up and ended his presentation by stating the bill was a good bill and that everyone should vote for it. He fell into his seat with a look of relief.
Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, questioned if Utah should be replacing the spruce with a tree that many consider to be a weed.
"They are beautiful; I did plant them in my yard but ended up tearing them out because they ended up taking over everything," Layton said. "Or is that a good analogy for Utah? You can't kill us and we take over everything - maybe we like that."
Wilson responded by stating the aspen is an appropriate metaphor for Utah as it is known to reproduce at a high rate, much like the state's population. He also noted that the tree's ability to spread, like a weed, is actually one of the reasons the aspen should become the state tree as Utah is home to the world's largest living organism, the pando clone, a cluster of over 47,000 aspen trees located near Fish Lake.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, voted against the tree change as she said she was contacted by a constituent that was very concerned about the change. One argument for changing the tree was that Colorado also has the spruce as its state tree but Moss' constituent explained that Utah had declared its tree six years prior to Colorado.
"They copied us," she said.
Moss also said her constituent suggested if the tree be changed that it be changed to a cottonwood tree because the aspen also has ties to Colorado, much like the spruce, but the cottonwood tree was more identifiable to Utah.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber, also voted against the legislation as he said his wife opposed the tree change.
Herbert is expected to sign the tree legislation as he told a group of 4th graders from Monroe last year that he has always wondered why Utah has the Colorado blue spruce as its state tree. The 4th graders then lobbied their local legislator, Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, to run the legislation to change the tree to the aspen. Other state symbols for Utah include: the beehive, the sea gull, the dutch oven and the sugar beet.
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