Field Journal


  • 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

     

  • June 29th, 2018

    Thanks to the commitment of our Field Volunteers, 2018 is proving to be our most active and productive service season to date. Our crews continue to expand our work across Utah where impacts to our wild and public lands are most severe. We have traveled from the mountains of the West Desert, across the fractured landscapes of southern Utah’s imperiled national monuments, and as far as our northern wilderness.

    As we move through a summer of service work in Bears Ears National Monument (view our complete event calender here), we look ahead to a busy fall season. We’re preparing for project work across the state: Bears Ears, Book Cliffs, Canaan Mountain Wilderness, Cedar Mesa, and the Deep Creek Mountains. Our crews will be active nearly every weekend now through early November – and we need your help!

    Beginning this fall we will recruit, train and outfit select individuals to lead service projects in Utah. SUWA’s crew leaders will work with our Program Director and collaborating land managers to increase our program’s capacity while ensuring our productive presence across Utah.

    Do you have experience guiding outdoor groups? Would you like to learn more about what it takes to manage fieldwork while navigating some of our state’s most magnificent landscapes? Several diverse opportunities are available – backcountry to front country – and we are looking for a few committed leaders to work with us beginning this fall.

    Take the next step in service and be a part of our first class of crew leaders as we expand our efforts and ensure SUWA’s watchful on-the-ground presence across our treasured landscapes.

    Prospective crew leaders should submit a brief statement of interest (up to a page), along with a resume of relevant experience, to volunteer@suwa.org. This is a volunteer position. You may email preliminary inquiries to the same address or call (435) 259-9151.

    As always, thank you for your ongoing support and commitment to protect wild Utah.

    Jeremy Lynch
    Service Program Director

  • April 24th, 2018

    Reports From the Field is a blog of SUWA’s Field Volunteers, accounting experiences, reflections and activism from time spent in direct service of Utah’s wild and public lands. 

    When hiking and exploring Bears Ears National Monument, it is easy to lose oneself in the beauty and isolation of its many canyons. The serene beauty found in the region now widely associated with the Bears’ Ears buttes is one of the main appeals of this landscape. However, a scan of the canyon walls and alcoves reveals glimpses into the distinctive and vibrant cultural history of the region. While many call Bears Ears a wilderness, it was called home by generations of indigenous peoples, whose artwork, architecture, and objects of daily life may still be found throughout the Bears Ears cultural landscape. As an archaeologist, I can attest to the scientific significance of these sites, but more importantly these are places of cultural identity and spiritual importance to descendant Native American communities.

    Ruins visible from a great distance across the canyon expanse.

    I had the chance earlier this month to explore one such cultural space with a backcountry cleanup project organized by SUWA at Fish and Owl Canyon. Our crew of volunteer scientists and professionals performed trail maintenance, cleaned out and dispersed illegal fire pit rings, and carried out trash left by hikers. All the while, we were witness to archaeological sites throughout the canyons. A granary tucked beneath a rock overhang. A scatter of ceramic sherds on a talus slope. A stark white pictograph above a habitation site.

    Increasingly rare potsherds indicate the cultural landscape of the canyons.

    These were all created by the Ancestral Pueblo culture over 700 years ago, amid a time of social unrest and environmental uncertainty. The placement of dwellings in nearly inaccessible canyon alcoves has been interpreted by many archaeologists as an indicator that defense and security were a priority for the people who called these canyons home. Our small contingent approached one such site, but were appropriately foiled by the steepness of the surrounding slickrock. Even amid a time of uncertainty, the people who dwelt in Fish and Owl Canyons still filled their lives with beauty, craftsmanship, and sustenance, as seen in pictographs adorning the canyon walls, black-on-white ceramic sherds found beneath a site, and corn cobs lying on a dry alcove floor.

    I first hiked Owl Canyon in 2009 and remembered well the ruins, rock art, and artifacts found throughout the canyon. On this return trip I was happy to see that the ruins and rock art appeared undamaged and still in good condition. However, I was disturbed to find the wealth of ceramic sherds that once adorned sites were largely gone. In less than a decade, a deluge of visitors had carried away these pieces of the Bears Ears cultural landscape. As we all continue to fight for the legal protection of Bears Ears, it is just as important to continue to educate a public unfamiliar with the proper etiquette required to visit cultural sites. Our cleanup work helped reverse recent human impact on the canyon environment, but a respect for the cultural legacies of Bears Ears is essential for the continued preservation of this landscape.

    Our responsibility resides in the honoring and protection of a cultural legacy.

     

    Maxwell Forton, Archaeologist
    Binghamton University