05.7.13

The Escalante River Needs a Few Good Volunteers

The Escalante River Watershed Partnership is offering a tremendous opportunity for volunteers who want to backpack to a remote and wild part of Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, spend a day getting to know the river and its side canyons, then take up loppers and saws to help cut out Russian olive—an invasive species that’s harming the river.

The project is being co-hosted by Wilderness Volunteers, a non-profit organization that sets up and promotes volunteer service on America’s wild public lands. It will take place Sept. 22-28, but you need to sign up now. Space is limited.

This volunteer opportunity is all part of the work being done by members of the Escalante River Watershed Partnership who, since 2008, have been working to restore and maintain the natural and ecological conditions on the Escalante River and its watershed. Their approach has been thorough and deliberate, as they build and sustain a coalition of ranchers, rafters, hikers, fishermen, researchers, and local governments who all want to see this spectacular river and watershed in southern Utah thrive. Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, the “friends” group for the monument, is taking a lead role in organizing and running the Partnership.

Much of the river is inside the boundaries of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a real gem in the National Conservation Lands.  The river is so remote that it was the last major river in the lower 48 states to be explored and named by European settlers. It was also the last place in the continental United States to be mapped. Even today, it can feel like a frontier. With more than 300 species of amphibians, mammals, reptiles, birds, and an abundance of ancestral Puebloan ruins and artifacts, it is ripe for scientific study.

And these studies are taking place. They revolve around native fish and their habitat needs; assessing populations of beaver and their positive contributions to water quality and flow; how planting native trees and shrubs helps wildlife; finding the best ways to monitor progress of this restoration; and devising a long-term plan to remove Russian olive and tamarisk from the river corridor—two invasive species that have been wreaking havoc on its natural functions.

Many of these studies are being conducted by staff who work for the BLM, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Trout Unlimited, Forest Service, various researchers affiliated with universities, and many more. Collectively, the results of their research inform how we can best attempt to restore and maintain this beautiful river and watershed—and all the wildlife species and people who depend on it—long into the future.

Right now there’s room for volunteers to get involved, too. Check it out, and consider becoming part of this effort to improve habitat for one of the most spectacular and remote rivers in the Southwest.