Pando aspen grove at Fishlake National Forest
Walking through Pando toward Fish Lake at Fishlake National Forest in Utah. Credit: Robert Young

As we journey further back in time through our Global ReLeaf history, our stop in 2011 involves a location that certainly has made a name for itself regarding longevity. In fact, it’s an area that contains arguably one of the oldest, largest single organisms on Earth and one of only 40 prestigious “Wonders of America” according to the U.S. Postal Service. If a hint is in order, this natural marvel was also honored with a commemorative stamp for its aforementioned title in 2006.

Indeed, the next leg of our expedition takes place in Fishlake National Forest, Utah — home of the clonal quaking aspen stand known as “Pando,” which aptly means “I spread” in Latin. Pando, also known as The Trembling Giant, is a remarkable single stand of over 40,000 “individual” quaking aspen trees that are tied together by a single gargantuan root system. Each trunk and the roots are found to have an identical genetic identity to the others, making Pando classifiable as a singular organism. Pando has developed a complex and astonishing system for longevity — when an individual clone of a trunk dies, it is replaced with genetically identical shoots. Altogether, Pando weighs nearly 13 million pounds and spreads across more than 106 acres. As far as Pando’s age goes, the root system is said to have accumulated a well-seasoned 80,000 years.

However, Pando and other local species of trees within Fishlake National Forest have had their continuity and vitality placed in jeopardy by the longstanding effects of climate change, including longer breeding seasons for pests, warming climates, altered weather patterns and more. Fishlake National Forest, in particular, has had to address several increased infestations of insects resulting from climate change.

To help address this issue, American Forests worked with the U.S. Forest Service to plant over 44,000 Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine and Engelmann spruce in areas surrounding Fishlake. These areas had lost large numbers of trees due to increasing numbers of ravaging spruce beetles, which had been witnessing inflated population numbers due to climate change and changes in their breeding cycles. This project helped restore habitat for a number of local wildlife species, including elk, black bear, cougar, moose and mountain goats. In addition, the planting rejuvenated and beautified a highly utilized recreational area for local fishers and bird watchers. What’s more, it ensured the cultivation of aesthetic quality in an area that truly holds one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders.