Service Program


  • 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.

     

  • February 16th, 2021
    Our 2021 Stewardship Season begins mid-March and registration is now open for all posted projects. Whether you’ve joined us before or this is the first you’ve heard of our program, visit our Stewardship Program online to learn more and to apply!

    Transform Your Recreation into Stewardship
    We have several opportunities for Utahns and nearby residents of the Colorado Plateau this spring, summer, and fall—from hands-on ORV restoration work near Moab, to archaeological surveys in Bears Ears National Monument, to monitoring excursions in the wilderness study areas west of the Wasatch. Check out our “Upcoming Projects” schedule for the latest information. Then, check back regularly for new project postings throughout the season. Submit a general application to receive monthly updates on new opportunities.

    Become a Wilderness Steward
    In addition to recruiting volunteers for our traditional stewardship projects, we are seeking Utah residents to join county-based volunteer crews. Our regional Wilderness Stewardship groups monitor on-the-ground conditions of protected public lands. We identify, document, and report on a range of impacts, including those caused by ORV travel, dispersed camping, and other forms of frontcountry and backcountry travel. Stewards receive trainings in wilderness study area (WSA) monitoring and drylands restoration from SUWA staff. Periodic group monitoring excursions are hosted by SUWA on public lands across the state. Work with us as we broaden our reach and cover more ground protecting wild Utah. For more information, and to sign up, contact volunteer@suwa.org. Open to Utah residents only.

    Pandemic Protocols
    As was the case in 2020, we will continue to limit project participation to volunteers from a local or relatively nearby point of origin through early 2021. Each project posting will specify recruitment parameters. This—along with our custom pandemic protocols—aims to create the safest environment possible for our volunteers. We appreciate your understanding as we all continue to navigate stewardship safely.

    Get inspired by our 2021 “You Are a Steward” video:

    StewardshipVideoScreenshot(2).jpg

    If you have any questions for us, please do not hesitate to write (volunteer@suwa.org) or call (435) 259-9151.

  • 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.

  • September 22nd, 2020

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is excited to announce our Fall 2020 Stewardship Scholarship Essay Contest. Please review the guidelines below:


    Students are invited to write a 750-1250 word essay on the topics of Land Stewardship or Trust in the More-Than-Human world for a chance to win a cash scholarship toward your education. There will be one grand prize scholarship of $1000 and two semi-finalist scholarships of $500 awarded. Complete essays or excerpts may be printed in SUWA’s Redrock Newsletter.

    SUWA’s mission is to protect the outstanding wilderness at the heart of the Colorado Plateau in its natural state for all Americans. Recognizing that people of color have historically been left out of the U.S. public land conservation movement, we are committed to our goal of raising diverse voices across the West – those who take the lead protecting public lands in Utah.

    Eligible students are those who 1) are self-identified as Black, Indigenous, and/or a Person of Color, 2) live in Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, or a Tribal Nation in the region, and 3) are enrolled at least half-time as an undergraduate at a college, university, technical school, or vocational institution in the Spring 2021 academic year.

    The scholarship application period opens Tuesday, September 22, 2020 and closes on Sunday, November 29, 2020 at midnight MST.


    Essay Topics

    Essays should draw from your personal experience to connect the dots between fundamental social issues and the need for broadscale land protection. Write as if to an external audience whom you feel may not understand your experience at the outset. In this way, write as a teacher from your own place of learning. Please choose one of the following topics to respond to in your essay submission.


    Topic 1: Trust in the More-Than-Human World

    Public lands are held in trust for all Americans. No matter where you are from, or how long you’ve been an American, they are for you, and for the generations to come. While all of the natural world held in public trust has a  legal definition, we want to know how you’ve come to gain a sense of trust – in your self, in your community, or in your surrounding natural environment – through your relationship with the more-than-human world. 

    Briefly define what trust means, or looks like, to you. Tell the reader where a feeling of trust in yourself or in relationship with others comes naturally. Then, answer the question: What does trust look like beyond your human relationships? Tell a story about a specific relationship with a natural element (place, plant, animal, fungi, or other element of nature) that you learned to trust. What impact has this trust between you and the more-than-human world had on your life? How does this inform your activism?


    Topic 2: Land Stewardship Today

    Stewardship takes on numerous forms according to our values and traditions. Each of these personal aspects are shaped by your culture.

    Write from your personal experience. This may incorporate wilderness encounters, or include your personal experience of wild things within a context not conventionally defined by the “wilderness” term. Describe how your connection to the natural systems (landscapes; creatures; broader ecosystems) at the heart of the wilderness concept, have propelled your activism.


    Submission Process

    All submissions should be sent as a Word Doc to scholar@suwa.org. Please include “Scholarship Submission” as the title of your email. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis through November 29th.

    At the top of the Word document containing your essay, please include the following:

    • Your Full Name
    • Your School/Student ID#
    • Your Contact Phone #
    • Statement of Need [3-5 sentences outlining your personal need and interest in the scholarship. This will NOT be shared publicly.]

    Questions? Write to us at: scholar@suwa.org