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In Our Hands

The History of Land Management in Pando

Commentary by Nick Mustoe
Timeline collected and by Friends of Pando.

Updated: June 2024

Pando: History of Land Management Timeline

Compiled by Friends of Pando from Public and Private Sources between Fall of 2022 and Winter of 2023

  • 1976: Before its discovery, Pando’s homeland is set aside for recreational use as part of the larger USFS National Forest Management Act.
  • 1976: Burton Barnes and Jerry Kemperman document discovery of a mega-clone in the Fishlake Basin based on aerial photography taken when visiting Pando’s homeland.  
  • 1987: Fishlake National Forest begins research on the massive aspen clone observed by Barnes and Kemperman. Noting disease, a plan is developed to coppice parts of the tree. Coppicing is a treatment that removes diseased wood and sprurs regeneration by shifting the hormone balance in favor of new growth. To amplify the effort, Fishlake permits the public to collect firewood to remove diseased wood. The initial plots are 2 acres in size.
  • 1988: Another round of coppicing is undertaken to help promote regeneration. This plot measures 15 acres and is known as the “Aspen Regeneration Project”.
  • 1992: In a time when Aspen Ecology is still in it’s infancy, the public and researchers note the new growth spurred by coppicing is being eaten by deer. The USFS begins installing protective fencing to protect new growth from deer.
  • 1993: The previously unnamed tree is given the nickname “Pando” Latin for “I Spread” by researchers Jeremy Mitton and Michael C. Grant. While they did not discover the tree, the name sticks and provides a common name that aid researchers finding work about the Pando Tree. 
  • 1997: Fishlake National Forest supports work by Charles Kay, to undertake the first formal re-photography project about Fishlake Basin. While the survey works to re-photograph locations documented by the Powell Expedition, the effort includes a few aerial views of Pando. The document is used by Fishlake National Forest and researchers today to understand how the Pando’s homeland has changed over time.
  • 2006: The Pando Tree receives an official US Postal Service stamp. Designed by Lonnie Busch for the “Wonder’s of America” series, the stamp makes it premier on May 27, 2006.  
  • 2008: USFS scientist Jennifer DeWoody, working with independent researchers Karen Mock, Valerie Hipkins, and Carol Rowe, publish genetic research that verifies Pando’s size and scale of operation. Pando officially becomes the world’s largest tree, being the largest tree by weight (13.2 Million Pounds), the largest tree by land mass (106 acres), and the largest aspen clone –combined.
  • 2009-2011: Fishlake National Forest Ecologist Bob Campbell works with Dale Bartos and others to support development of a framework to care for Pando, later to be named the Pando Aspen Clone Restoration Project.
  • 2011: Forest Ecologist Bob Campbell supports efforts by independent researcher Paul Rogers to realize the Pando Aspen Clone Restoration Project.
  • 2013: Based on results of work to from the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Fishlake National Forest begins work to install new fences to protect Pando. Ground fire and removal of Juniper are used to stimulate regeneration to help restore the tree. The efforts brings 53 acres of the Pando into protective management and care.  
  • 2013: Fishlake National Forest names Pando a “Special Place” on its website.
  • 2013: Fishlake partners with Utah Department of Wildlife Resources on Pando. Under federal and state law, Utah DNR/DWR has authority and dominion over wildlife and game in and around Pando.
  • 2013-2019: Fishlake National Forest works informally with a number of conservation groups to develop insights, research, and management models to study and protect Pando.
  • 2018: Via a grant agreement, Western Aspen Alliance and EJF Philanthropies work to increase the height of wildlife control fences to 8-foot, the maximum height a mule deer can jump to improve the efficacy of the protective systems.  
  • 2019: Utah DNR and, volunteers from around the United States, work to install deer-proof visitor gates in Pando.
  • 2020: Fishlake National Forest Staff takes part in community forums organized by the group Friends of Pando and helps seed the idea of a “Pando Ambassador”, someone to help undertake regular monitoring and maintenance work. 
  • 2021: Friends of Pando undertakes its first canopy studies of the Pando tree.
  • 2021: Fishlake National Forest helps fund work on the Pando Photographic Survey undertaken by Friends of Pando and Snow College. A first of its kind document, the effort details 8,542 locations of the tree at the ground level. The effort produces image and and location data that can be replicated and used to monitor Pando for generations to come.
  • 2022: Fishlake formalizes an initial, 5-year partnership with Friends of Pando
  • 2022: Friends of Pando and Fishlake National Forest collaborate to pilot the “Pando Ambassador” program
  • 2022: Friends of Pando, Fishlake National Forest and, staff from Utah Dept. Wildlife Resources collaborate on a fence repair and monitoring programs. In 2022, they will make major repairs to three sections of fencing and fortify another 128 locations.
  • 2022: The Fishlake Recreation Plan, which expands protection and care of Pando, is approved after public comment period and NEPA review. The plan provides authority to install additional permanent and temporary fencing systems to protect Pando and set the stage for restoration.
  • 2022: Fishlake National Forest and Friends of Pando begin the first of a series of longitudinal monitoring programs. 
  • 2022: Friends of Pando gathers a second canopy study of the Pando Tree.
  • 2022: Working with Fishlake National Forest, Friends of Pando sponsors work by sound conservationist Jeff Rice to document the soundscape of Pando. The recordings document Pando’s subterranean workings for the first time.
  • 2023: Utah DWR begins a longitudinal deer collaring program to better understand deer behavior in an around Pando.
  • 2023: Fishlake National Forest, working with Friends of Pando, begins a longitudinal wildlife monitoring program. The initial monitoring system features an array of cameras and bioacoustic stations that are monitored year round, a first in Pando’s care. 
  • 2023: Fishlake National Forest and Friends of Pando collaborate to develop the first LiDAR-based Digintal landmass model of Pando.
  • 2023: Friends of Pando launches the Pando Photographic Survey. To date, the data details 60% of Pando’s landmass in high resolution 360-degree imagery allowing anyone to study and explore the tree year-round, from anywhere in the world. 
  • 2023: Friends of Pando launches version 1 of the “Pando Living Map” project. The effort makes available for the first time, all publicly available maps and landmass data about Pando. 
  • 2024: In January of 2024, Governor of Utah, Spencer J. Cox mentions Pando in his State of the State address. The following week, elected officials welcome Friends of Pando and its community partners to discuss work needed to care for Pando.
  • 2024: Under the leadership of Representative Carl Albrecht, the State of Utah sets aside $250,000 for state agencies to bring 81% of Pando’s land mass into permanent protections.  

Commentary: Nick Mustoe
(Former Forester,  Fishlake National Forest)

Pando and the greater Fish Lake Basin where it is found became part of the Forest Reserve system by presidential proclamation from William McKinley on February 10th, 1899. Pando’s history since that time has, in part, been linked to this connection to what became Fishlake National Forest. Forest Reserves were transitioned to National Forests around 1897. These designations in Utah were primarily established at the requests of local citizens to protect watersheds, provide a sustainable timber supply, and manage grazing of domestic livestock. Grazing around Fish Lake then was a mix of sheep and cattle. Small-scale sawmills existed in the valley towns west and south of Fish Lake.

Image of the Presidential Proclamation for Fishlake

Management of the Forest, and in turn Pando, expanded to encompass more objectives with the passage of the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act of 1960. This act of Congress broadened the mission of the Forest Service by placing timber, range, water, recreation, and wildlife on equal terms to best meet the needs of the American people. It is around this time that summer residences were built along the shore of Fish Lake and on the edge of the yet to be discovered Pando.

National Forest direction was again addressed by Congress in 1976 with the passage of the National Forest Management Act. This act directs the Forest Service to maintain viable populations of vertebrate wildlife found on their lands and to create a Land and Resource Management Plan for each Forest. These forest plans described resource management practices, prioritization of individual uses for given areas, and the suitability of lands for different resource management activities. Under the Fishlake Forest Plan, Pando falls into the management area prioritizing rural and roaded recreational opportunities. Within this designation, visual resources and providing recreational experiences are prioritized.

Coincidentally, this is the same year that Jerry Kemperman and Burton Barnes made the public and the Fishlake National Forest aware of two large clones in the Fish Lake Basin. It was an attempt to study aspen across the Western United States that the two happened to be driving along Highway 25, a highway that to this day bisects Pando. Their publication describes two large aspen clones observed during aerial observations. One clone, was 24 acres and the other, later to be named Pando, was estimated to be 106 acres in size. Kemperman and Barnes used leaf, bark, and stem characteristics to determine the clone size. Tantalizingly, the authors make a passing mention to larger clones, perhaps as large as 200 acres in the region. To date, the location of this larger than Pando aspen clone is unknown.

The Forest conducted a coppice cut within Pando in 1987 and again in 1988. These cuts were one to two acres in size. The intent of the harvests was to promote aspen regeneration and provide firewood to the Wayne County community, which makes extensive use of firewood for heating. It was believed by managers at the time that animals would not eat the regenerating aspen. In the fall of 1988, there were abundant aspen sprouts in both areas. Another fifteen acres were coppiced in the spring of 1992.

Public response to the obvious coppice cuts came to a head on May 6, 1992, with an editorial published in the Richfield Reaper. The article read in part, “There’s more to the forest than the trees. This week trees one of the world’s oldest known grove of quaking aspen trees were cut down by the U. S. Forest Service in the Fishlake National Forest.” In response to public concern, the Forest chose to build an six-foot fence around the fifteen-acre harvest area in the fall of 1992.

Image of clear cutting of Pando - History of Land Management in Pando

Unfortunately, the window to fence and protect the two smaller cuts had passed as little regeneration in those areas persisted. Allen Henningson, a Forest Silviculurist during this time, reported that the sprouts were heavily browsed by deer. The fenced area did successfully regenerate and remains one of the highest concentrations of young aspen in the Pando clone.

Pando received its name in the popular press in October 1993 with the publication of Michael C. Grant’s Discover Magazine article entitled The Trembling Giant. Grant, in addition to providing the moniker, was also the first to draw attention to the clone’s large size and weight making it one of the world’s largest organisms. Grant’s efforts in publicizing the clone and a variety of articles about the clone at this time also resulted in the U.S. Postal Service issuing a Pando stamp in May of 2006 as part of a 40-stamp set entitled “Wonders of America.”

image of Pando in autumn

Validation for Pando’s genetic identity came in 2008 with the work of Jennifer DeWoody and others. DNA isolated from leaves and cambium confirmed an almost identical size for Pando as that proposed by Kerperman and Barnes. The genetic certainty that Pando was identical provided a crucial validation to its status as one of the world’s largest organisms. Genetic research on aspen clones remains rare to this day, perhaps another one of Pando’s notable titles as one of only a handful of wild aspen clones to have its size confirmed by DNA evidence.

 

In 2011, Bob Campbell – Forest Ecologist for the Fishlake National Forest – and Utah State University’s Paul Rogers worked together to bring about the Pando Clone Restoration Project with the aim to fence 67 acres of Pando and study aspen regeneration resulting from four restoration treatments. These were burning the understory of common juniper, shrub removal, and selective cutting of overstory trees to elicit growth promoter response. The Forest conducted these test treatments in 2014. Some aspen ecologists at the time believed that the Pando clone might already have too depleted of a root system to respond and send up new sprouts, despite prolific sprouting responses to the previous coppice cuts. There has been extensive sprouting within the fenced areas following treatment. A publication by Paul Rogers and Jody Gale in 2017 confirmed this and showed that there was no statistical difference in number of aspen sprouts resulting from any of the treatment methods and the effect of fencing alone.

Pando and the Fishlake National Forest have continued to host a variety of researchers, non-governmental organizations, and interested members of the public at Pando each year. Recreation staff on the Forest have reported a noticeable uptick in visitors making a trip to the Fish Lake Basin specifically to visit the clone. The Fishlake National Forest has developed an interpretive plan for Pando, placed “Entering the Pando Aspen Clone” signs on both ends of where Highway 25 crosses Pando, and produced an informational brochure to provide forest visitors details about the clone. In 2019, the Forest, volunteers, and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources worked together to install wildlife proof visitor gates in a fenced area adjacent to Dr Creek Campground. Camping on the edge of the Pando clone at Dr. Creek Campground remains popular with a variety of visitors to the basin. Additional fencing of Pando as well as closing a Forest Service road through Pando are among the options for future management being considered by the Fishlake National Forest. A related master plan for managing recreation and infrastructure in the Fish Lake Basin is also in the early phases. Any changes in the management of the clone will be open to public comment and consideration.

Friends of Pando is dedicated and working to educate the public, support research and preservation efforts and inspire stewardship of Pando, the world’s largest tree.

 

Friends of Pando is a proud partner of Pando’s public land stewards, Fishlake National Forest of the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture. Learn more about our partnership.

 

Friends of Pando and its partners are equal opportunity employers.

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Friends of Pando
PO Box 12
Richfield, UT, 84701
Phone: 435-633-1893
IRS EIN: 87-3958681