Pando — Utah’s Own
Photo courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture
Christelle Estrada attended our SEIZING AN ALTERNATIVE conference in June and, ever since, has been organizing students and others in her home state of Utah to draw more attention to Pando, use it as a teaching tool, and focus more research on it. Christelle is a Secondary English Language Arts and Media Specialist at the Utah State Office of Education. I asked her to tell us more about what she’s up to:
As Pando is in your home state, you sort of have bigger claims to it than most of the rest of us. What’s happening there with Pando?
Christelle Estrada: It’s exciting. We have students and educators across academic disciplines and a variety of organizations working together to focus on this remarkable tree – the oldest and largest living organism on the planet. We’re proud to have it in our state – or, I should say, we’re honored to be in a state that encompasses a place where it has existed for something like 80,000 years.
You want to draw attention to Pando. How do you plan to do it?
High school students are organizing road trips this fall, winter, and spring to monitor its growth and better understand the eco-system that provides it with its long life – and also understand the challenges it faces as an organism.
A short documentary called “Road Trip to Pando” will be produced by the Utah State Office of Education film crew, which will include some aerial filming from a Utah State University filmmaker who has filmed Pando previously. Closed captioning and subtitles in Mandarin will provide a worldwide audience and a premiere place at the Utah Education Network’s eMedia library.
I hear you’ve even been trying to get the quaking aspen, of which Pando is a colony, transplanted as the Utah state tree.
In fact, this already has happened. This was the amazing work of the 4th grade students at Monroe Elementary School in Sevier School District. Monroe Elementary is located in Richfield, Utah – about an hour’s drive from Fish Lake National Park, where Pando grows.
The class recruited State Senator Okerlund as a quaking aspen advocate and spokesperson on the senate floor and he, along with colleagues in 2014, passed Senate Bill 41 to change the state tree from the Colorado Blue Spruce to the quaking aspen – Pando, of course, being the oldest and largest example. Then the governor came to Monroe Elementary to sign it into law.
You can see the video, featuring the class instructor Angie Blomquist, and even hear an original song about Pando, here. The story is an example of teaching and learning for a real purpose – one that engages students in action and advocacy.
What’s happening in the state now regarding Pando?
We have created a network of collaborative efforts ranging from project-based learning initiatives to local partnerships – including, for instance, with the Western Aspen Alliance, Ogden School District’s International Baccalaureate Program, Salt Lake Center for Science Education, Stanford’s REDlab for Design Thinking, and other schools across Utah.
To honor Pando itself, we have a campaign: Plant a Tree, Save the Earth. This takes place for two weeks every year, beginning October 2 running until October 16th, which is World Food Day. This puts Pando in solidarity with family farmers in Utah, India, China, and Africa.