Service Program


  • November 18th, 2021

    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 suwa.org/apply.

    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
    volunteer@suwa.org

     

  • 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.