Field Journal


  • June 29th, 2021

    Thanks to the steady and persistent work of our Wildlands Team and more than a half-decade of service expertise gained by our Stewardship Program, SUWA has successfully catalyzed overdue protection efforts for the diverse landscapes in the San Rafael Swell designated as wilderness over two years ago through the John Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act.

    A rock cairn basket marks (and mimics) natural formations in the Sid’s Mountain Wilderness.

    Making Progress on the Ground
    This spring we began working with the Bureau of Land Management’s Price field office—the office tasked with ensuring the integrity of those lands designated as wilderness: Muddy Creek, Labyrinth Canyon, Mexican Mountain, and many more of the San Rafael Swell’s iconic landscapes. The approach and processes we developed and continue to hone are concise, long term, and no-nonsense. Beginning with the foundation of years of data collected during fieldwork conducted by Wildlands Field Director Ray Bloxham, we rely on SUWA’s GIS team to incorporate this data into interactive maps identifying critical needs on specific public lands. Our Stewardship Coordinator Jack Hanley then revisits these sites with an attending BLM Ranger to assess, describe, and propose site-specific work plans to shore up wilderness boundaries and ensure that the impacts of ORV travel and dispersed camping are addressed head-on.

    This groundtruthing and collection of data then produce formal work proposals specific to a designated wilderness area. This spring, we targeted our efforts along the eastern and western boundaries of the Mexican Mountain Wilderness, as well as locations along the eastern flank of Sid’s Mountain Wilderness. After two trips and over 200 volunteer hours committed, we’ve completed stage one protections aimed at ORV compliance in these designated wilderness areas. Currently and through the summer, we are in the midst of scoping the San Rafael Reef Wilderness, with plans for multiple fall projects beginning with a run of three weekends in September and October surrounding National Public Lands Day: September 11/12, September 25/26 (National Public Lands Day), and October 2/3. And, already in the pipeline, we have plans to move forward into the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness in the spring of 2022 and Muddy Creek Wilderness in the fall of 2022.

    Volunteer Jordan assembles the wire frame for a rock cairn basket which will serve as base for boundary signage along the Mexican Mountain Wilderness.

    An Interdisciplinary Approach
    Once our proposal has run the gamut of BLM resource specialist approvals, we then design, schedule, recruit, and execute a series of stewardship projects with field crews consisting of SUWA members, new supporters, Emery County Public Lands Council members, BLM representatives, and SUWA staff. These projects are the heart of our program, the most public aspect of our work, and emblematic of what we do. However, they are notably and importantly the culmination of diverse and persistent work within our Stewardship Program and across SUWA’s Wildlands, GIS, and Legal Teams prior to and following these flagship events. Years in the making and with years of work ahead, our hands-on work implementing wilderness projects in the Swell is undoubtedly a team effort.

    A prime example of how rehabilitation efforts such as surface raking, “iceberging” of boulders, and “deadplanting” of downed vegetation can effectively disappear the tracks of illegal ORV travel. Featured here is the Mexican Mountain Wilderness’ western boundary.

    The Work
    While on the ground in the Swell, our first approach is minimalism: raking out tracks, removing campsites, and naturalizing the landscape by strategically placing downed brush and boulders. In some cases, we employ cairn basket building—a process by which wilderness signs are housed in a cylindrical, four-foot-tall wire mesh basket filled with locally-sourced rock. The signs are drilled at the base where wire is run through and around a small boulder. Both a preventative measure for sign removal or destruction and an educational tool, you will find these installations in washes and at the junction of former illegal routes. Once installed, we recruit additional volunteers to monitor these sites for impacts and inform our Stewardship Team of up-to-date conditions. This is a key component of our growing Wilderness Stewards Program.

    Yet, as robust as our initial strategies are—95 percent of our work has endured the onslaught of the recent Memorial Day Weekend crowd—we recognize that these endeavors are merely the first offensive in a years-long drive to support SUWA’s broader effort to ensure long-lasting and effective management of wilderness in the Swell. 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 and timely review, redesign, and reinforcement. In other words, where wilderness is concerned, it is a fact that—to ensure effective protections—we must be in this for the long haul. 2021 is the first year of many that our staff and crews will manifest a new paradigm of management on the landscape. In the years that come, we hope that you and others will join us in ensuring that our work becomes the standard by which all wilderness-quality lands are protected and defended across Utah and the West.

    Visit our website and Apply Today!

    Click here to learn more about our Stewardship Scholarships offered to student applicants from historically underserved communities currently  enrolled at least half-time in an accredited college, university, vocational school, or technical school. 

    Our crew works in tandem, employing a rock sling to move exceptionally heavy boulders to where they will block future illegal travel into the Mexican Mountain Wilderness.

     

  • 2020 volunteers - masked
    November 30th, 2020

    The coronavirus pandemic entered the American psyche the same week our 2020 stewardship season was slated to begin, forcing us redefine how we work on the landscape.

    Today, as we plan for the 2021 season and beyond, adaptation remains critical in protecting the health of people and the integrity of Utah’s wild places. Working on Utah’s public lands going forward will require all of us to pause and reevaluate how we encounter, experience, and enjoy our public lands.

    Key to our understanding of how best to approach stewardship in the coming years will be your input and reflection on how our individual impacts – how the choices we make and those we do not make – affect the places we love. This means considering how we recreate, how we tell public lands stories via social media, and how we build inclusivity and resilience into the outdoors.

    As much as anything else in a persistent pandemic environment, this ought to be the year’s primary lesson: the protection of public lands is fortified with an equal measure of care and justice for people. The true crossroads of wild and built environments are people – those who maintain, endure and experience both. 

    For many in 2020, our only seeming glimpse into the natural world was the patch of green or flash of color spied through a window. In a moment of clarity, the glint of the windowpane became a mirror through which we recognized as much wild within ourselves as in all the redrock. No matter where we live or what forces are at work on us, we are all poised to know and care for the wild. But if we are to protect wilderness, we must protect one another first.

    This year, we accomplished a great deal more than seemed likely or even possible given the context. In all, we tackled 14 projects on Utah public lands. We monitored and reclaimed over (50) unauthorized vehicular routes, removed over 1,200 square feet of graffiti from sandstone walls in wilderness, and installed thousands of feet of defensive barriers along protected land boundaries. Our volunteers installed dozens more wilderness and wilderness study area boundary signs, reclaimed extensive undesignated campsites, and removed countless bags of refuse. We would not have accomplished any of this without you. 

    This winter, we will work to redefine how we work with you on the landscape. As a start, we plan to hone our regional Wilderness Steward chapters across Utah. If you are interested now in becoming part of our program, complete a 2021 General Application and select “Wilderness Steward” under the Volunteer Position question. Learn more about our 2019 Class of Stewards here – or contact volunteer@suwa.org to speak directly with our staff. And keep an ear to the ground for a mid-winter update on our program as we carry forward into the new paradigm.

    Thank you once again for the hard work this season.

    Stay safe – and we will see you in 2021.

  • November 26th, 2019

    What a year! As we push onward under a deeply problematic administration, we take time to revisit those encouraging stewardship moments and milestones of the past year to buoy us through these trying times. Join us as we recap the year now nearly past, covering our Stewardship Program’s initiatives, progress, and on-the-ground project work in 2019.


    A note on our volunteers:

    “From the seasoned canyon country savant to the first generation college student camping her first night in wilderness, our volunteers are true stewards of Utah’s wild places. With a passion for learning through experience, a willingness to go where the work is – no matter how far from the familiar, and a commitment to carry the cause from canyon country to community centers, our volunteers (as one BLM ranger put it) “set the bar” for conservation volunteering in Utah.

    At the heart of wilderness protection in Utah have always been the wilderness protectors. We all have an obligation not merely to raise the issues, but to raise the voices that weigh wilderness as a fundamental right of the many. These voices – young and old, alike and unalike –  reflect back the worldviews that will define our movement through the 21st century. So long as there are willing hands and minds, we will guide them into the wilderness.”

    Jeremy Lynch
    Stewardship Director


    First Generation College Students from the University of Utah work on travel compliance issues near the newly designated Mexican Mountain Wilderness.

    Wilderness Stewardship Trainings
    In 2019, we hosted the 2nd annual Wilderness Stewardship Training in Washington County as well as the inaugural Salt Lake City Wilderness Stewardship Training. These trainings equip volunteers to collect critical data about on-the-ground conditions in designated wilderness and wilderness study areas. Over the past two years, our Stewards have dedicated hundreds of hours hiking over 500 miles of wilderness boundaries and interiors. The community created around monthly meetings of Stewards have led to improved, targeted management of issues that arise on wilderness-quality lands. This data guides development of best management strategies for protecting these wild places from the impacts of off-road vehicle travel. We could not do any of this work without the perennial commitment of our Stewards!

    The inaugural class of SLC Wilderness Stewards at our training in August.

    Trainees review America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act proposal maps before visiting actual parcels as part of the two-day training.

    Field Service Scholarship
    Working with our Grassroots Team, we rolled out the Stewardship Scholars Program to support more inclusive volunteer engagement with underserved communities in Utah. In 2019, (3) scholars joined projects in Grand Staircase-Escalante NM, the Deep Creek Mountains, and the La Sal Mountains. The reciprocity of these efforts will grow in 2020 as we continue to foster new voices through providing equitable opportunities to get involved on-the-ground.

    2019 Stewardship Scholars in the La Sal Mountains, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the Deep Creek Mountains.

    Service Projects
    With the addition of our Stewardship Coordinator, we conducted more projects and worked with a wider range of volunteer groups in 2019 than in years past. The list includes our steadfast members, a slew of Utah students, our Field Service Scholars, and members of the public from all ages and backgrounds. Combined, our 250 volunteers put in 46 project days and nearly 3,500 hours during 21 service projects on public lands across Utah in 2019. For all that we could say, the pictures speak loudest. Enjoy the “slideshow” – we hope it inspires you to join us again (or for the first time) in 2020!

    Students from Salt Lake Community College work on travel compliance in wilderness study areas in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    Volunteers joined three projects over seven months installing primary wilderness study area signage across seven West Desert WSAs.

    Our Bears Ears volunteers worked with the Forest Service on travel compliance in the Dark Canyon Wilderness.

    Two projects addressed wilderness boundary violations in the Cedar Mountain Wilderness. Our small and hearty crews traveled from Salt Lake City in the middle of the week to accomplish the work.

    Our second season of work in the Deep Creek Mountains saw volunteers install boundary-delineating buck and rail fence to ensure travel compliance in the Scott’s Basin wilderness study area.

    A hearty crew of 20 volunteers backpacked into the High Uintas Wilderness to address camping compliance along lake shorelines above 10,000′. For some, it was their first backpacking experience!

    For National Public Lands Day, we took to the river, rafting Westwater Canyon to a site in the wilderness study area in need of native vegetation restoration.

    For every long day’s work is a meal with a view in good company. Beat that!

  • December 20th, 2018

    In 2019, we will increase the capacity of our Wilderness Steward Initiative, training and equipping regional volunteers to monitor, assess and report impacts to natural and cultural resources on your public lands.

    Join us for the year’s first group training in February, then stay connected for additional opportunities to train directly with SUWA staff in the field this Spring. To propose organizing a WS chapter in your region, county or community, contact our Service Program Director.

  • November 7th, 2018

    When the destruction we witness daily on our public lands becomes disheartening, service work is our most immediate antidote. The dread we experience witnessing drought-death among the piñon-juniper woodlands of southern Utah, or learning of yet another environmentally-destructive policy impacting our public lands, earns reprieve in direct, hands-on service.

    It is a balm for fiery times to convene with those who share our concerns and restore dignity to the landscapes so severely impacted by an “energy dominance” agenda in Washington. We all live at the intersection of environmental and social justice, and our stewardship of wild places is a measure of the health of our human communities.

    SUWA’s service program was created to implement and support appropriate and effective land management practices among the agencies entrusted with protecting wild Utah. We are grateful for our volunteers and the good people in positions of authority willing to do the right thing to ensure that Utah’s wilderness-quality lands remain wild.

    Taking Account of Our Accomplishments

    In 2018, 226 volunteers joined 21 specialized SUWA service projects across Utah. Our committed crews tackled off-road vehicle (ORV) compliance issues, working hard to reclaim, naturalize and revegetate miles upon miles of closed and illegal routes in the Deep Creek Mountains, the San Rafael Swell, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Cedar Mountain Wilderness, and hard-hit WSAs everywhere in between.

    Our volunteers also dismantled and naturalized over 100 nonpermitted campsites scarring the canyons of Cedar Mesa and the Wah Wah, Notch Peak and Swasey Mountain wilderness study areas.

    We installed signs and built strategic natural barriers of downed wood and drystacked stone to protect the magnificent wild lands identified in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act from errant motorized vehicles. Where appropriate, we also built, repaired, or improved over 2,000 feet of boundary and exclosure fence in places like Bears Ears National Monument to protect natural and cultural resources from further degradation by people and—you guessed it—good old fashioned ungulates.

    In January, we piloted the Wilderness Stewards—a volunteer-driven initiative to monitor and assess reclamation needs on public lands. Thirty-six Washington County residents attended a two-day session with our field staff and local BLM rangers to train in monitoring the county’s extensive wilderness. In 2019, we will expand our Wilderness Stewards initiative throughout Utah’s counties, working with you to ensure that our public lands are protected.

    Essential to our mission (and our future), we increased efforts to provide access to the tools and training necessary to empower Utah’s young people to serve on public lands. We worked with first generation college students from the University of Utah, alternative break students, gap-year high schoolers, and young professionals in Utah’s recreation industry—all with the explicit goal of empowering these rising generations to serve as stewards of our state’s living redrock legacy.

    I invite you to register as a Field Volunteer with SUWA this winter and—come Spring—to join us as we continue our work across Utah.

    Apply Now