2021 Stewardship Year in Review: Implementing Emery County Wilderness

Nov 18th, 2021 Written by suwa

Over the past half-decade, our nearly 1,000 stewardship volunteers have dedicated over 11,500 hours of direct service on Utah’s public lands. If we include the travel time our volunteers have invested reaching our far-flung worksites, this number nearly doubles. No other hands-on conservation program in Utah measures up. And none can claim our sharp focus on the preservation and restoration of designated wilderness and wilderness-quality lands.

This year alone, our crews have worked with our Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service partners to close over 18 miles of illegal off-road vehicle (ORV) routes, rehabilitate over 9,000 square feet of ground surface, restore over 60 illegal campsites and remove more than 80 fire rings on wilderness-quality lands, carry out nearly 150 pounds of trash from wild places, survey over 230 acres for cultural resources, monitor 17 river miles for refuse and camping compliance, and install dozens of wilderness signs identifying protected lands in Utah. Our major emphasis this year has been the important work of implementing congressional wilderness protections in and around the San Rafael Swell—work that we will continue to support in 2022 and beyond.

Emery County Wilderness Area Management

Working with the Price BLM on wilderness area management exclusively, we accomplished the following in 2021:

  • 58 volunteers provided over 590 hours of in-field volunteer service.
  • 160 hours of direct staff time were devoted to working on field scoping, volunteer recruitment and management, project travel and facilitation, project reporting, and correspondence.
  • An annual total of 750 service hours—the equivalent of 94 work days or 4.5 months of full-time service—were spent working directly on wilderness protection in Emery County.

April through October, we targeted areas along the eastern and western boundaries of the Mexican Mountain Wilderness, sites along the eastern flank of the Sids Mountain Wilderness, and locations across the entire boundary of the San Rafael Reef Wilderness. Over six projects, we completed “stage one” protections aimed at ORV compliance in these designated wilderness areas. We will continue to monitor the San Rafael Reef, Mexican Mountain, and Sids Mountain Wilderness Areas for issues that may arise—and we will manage the sites we have worked on in the past. Through the end of the year and into 2022, we will begin assessing problem sites in the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, with plans to move forward into the Muddy Creek Wilderness in early 2022.

As the history of management in places such as the Cedar Mountain Wilderness have shown, it takes years of persistence to effectively manage wilderness boundaries while slowly discouraging and minimizing harmful (and often illegal) activity. As recreation and travel plans are shaped and implemented, and as the impacts of industrialized recreation create new challenges for wild places, we know that our stewardship work will require consistent review, redesign, and reinforcement. We are committed to the work at hand.

Advancing Youth and BIPOC Engagement in SUWA Stewardship

Essential to our work educating and training the next generation of public land stewards and SUWA supporters are our partnerships with institutions uplifting individuals from communities historically underrepresented in the conversation and fight for public lands protection. In 2021, we continued our partnership with the University of Utah’s Bennion Center to work with First Generation College Students on Alternative Break in the San Rafael Swell. As well, we facilitated a project in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for First Year Diversity Scholars at the university—students fulfilling the service requirements of their tuition scholarships. In addition, we continue to offer direct scholarships to BIPOC students across the Colorado Plateau.

Moving forward, we will continue to focus our outreach efforts on communities historically underserved in the outdoors. We plan to connect further with university programs supporting BIPOC students, Utah-based LGBTQ+ organizations, Latinx outdoors groups in Utah and on the West Coast, and more.

2021 Work Accomplished—at a Glance

  • 18 miles of illegal ORV routes managed for closure
  • 9,120 square feet of surface rehabilitation performed
  • (56) wilderness signs, (12) wilderness study area (WSA) signs; (3) restoration area signs; (3) cultural resource protection signs
  • (22) gabion baskets built and 1,363’ of log & block barrier installed
  • (59) illegal campsites remediated & (82) fire rings removed
  • 230 acres surveyed for cultural resources, +3.5 miles road corridor
  • (17) miles of river corridor managed for refuse, camping compliance
  • (145) lbs of trash removed from wilderness

Stewardship Numbers – Through The Years

  • 2021 Volunteer Hours: 3,193 / 2016-2021 Volunteer Hours: 11,534
  • 2021 Volunteers Managed: 191 / 2016-2021 Volunteers: 905
  • 2021 Project Days: 48 / 2016-2021 Project Days: 185

Stewardship Projects – Where We’ve Been

Stewardship Projects – Highlights
Of course, none of this would be possible without your service. As our staff spends the winter developing work proposals for the season ahead, I invite you to register today to join the ranks of our committed stewardship volunteers at

See you out there next season. And thank you for all your hard work.

Jeremy Lynch (he/him)
Stewardship Director | Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
(435) 259-9151