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Programs: National Conservation Lands: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument: Science and Research

Science and Research

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is often referred to as the "Science Monument", because of the emphasis on research provided in the enabling proclamation. 

The very words of the Proclamation identified the Monument's birth in science and the reason for its designation as a Monument: "The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument's vast and austere landscape embraces a spectacular array of scientific and historic resources." The proclamation goes on to identify the value of the frontier quality for science: "Even today, this unspoiled natural area remains a frontier, a quality that greatly enhances the monument's value for scientific study." That first paragraph ends with the promise of unparalleled opportunities for science: "The monument presents exemplary opportunities for geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, historians, and biologists." 

This page highlights the scientific and historic resources and celebrates the work of those geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, historians, biologists, staff and many more that have contributed to the body of scientific research, implementation and utilization on the Monument. 

Thank you to all the researchers, scientists, universities, staff and citizen scientists that have been so instrumental in sharing the wealth of scientific discoveries and treasures that the Monument holds. 

Bees

Did you know that over 650 species of bees were discovered in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) during a study conducted between 2000 and 2003! Of the bees discovered, nearly four dozen were new to scientists. These bees represent 54 genera and all bee families found in North America - making the GSENM one of the riches bee faunas in the west. Similarly, three bee genera, new for the state of Utah, were discovered. The GSENM’s large elevation gradient, incredible number of flowering plants, and mosaic of habitat and landscape types all contribute to support and maintain this fauna richness. 

Ethnobotanical Inventories

Last summer, the GSENM hosted an archaeology graduate researcher, David Sabata, from the Northern Arizona University who is studying the history and use of native plants on the monument’s riparian corridors. Traditionally, archaeologists have focused on prehistoric camps, rock art, pueblo homes and pioneer-era sites, yet, ethnobotony is rarely a focus of these studies. Ethnobotany is the study of how people use plants, and how the plants in turn influence culture.

The researcher is working with Native American tribes and monument staff to learn about resources on the monument, historical plant ranges and their use. The tribes have been instrumental in identifying culturally important plants, traditional uses of the plants, and gathering locations. The research will help the GSENM staff maintain healthy riparian areas that host these culturally significant plants.

Hummingbirds

In 2010, the Hummingbird Monitoring Network began monitoring hummingbirds at our GSENM Escalante Visitor Center and at Calf Creek Campground. This ongoing study is collecting information about hummingbird populations in areas that may be major migration routes. To monitor hummingbirds, wildlife biologists trap the hummingbirds and affix uniquely numbered bands to their legs which provides data about their distribution, movement of species, relative numbers, lifespan and cause of death. Find out more at hummonnet.org.

Recreation Baseline Study

In March, 2013, Colorado Mesa University’s Natural Resource Center and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument kicked off a multi-year study aimed at helping the BLM better respond to the public’s desires and expectations for how recreation on the Monument is managed.  The study is now in its final phase.

Using focus groups to open dialogue between GSENM and the public on recreation issues will provide information for future planning efforts and project assessments, and to gather data needed to better understand the public’s desired outcomes for recreation management.  

This study is funded by a National Landscape Conservation System Science Grant and Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act fees.

Weather Stations

Weather in Southern Utah can be unpredictable.  Frequent changes in elevation, constantly shifting winds, rapidly falling and rising temperatures, even the variation of landscapes from sagebrush flats to slot canyons can combine to make safely working or recreating in the backcountry challenging, particularly on the Bureau of Land Management’s remote Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

In an effort to better understand the weather on the Monument, and its effects on everything from plant communities to wildlife to watersheds, Dr. Ken Bradshaw, Monument soil scientist and hydrologist, recently activated the first of a series of weather stations to provide real-time data that is available to scientists, firefighters, ranchers, recreationists…anyone with internet access.

“The instruments record current air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, solar radiation, soil temperature, rainfall, and wind speed and direction,” explained Bradshaw.  “The station transmits the data hourly via a satellite uplink to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration GOES Data Collection System satellite, which is downloaded to BLMs Wildland Fire Management Information website.

“The information can be used for a variety of purposes…for long-term trend assessments such as calculating annual precipitation and drought monitoring; for rangeland health assessments and management of BLM lands; and to support efforts such as vegetation restoration projects where it is important to select seed types that will be most responsive to soil moisture conditions.

“These data are also valuable for watershed assessments.  For example, hydrologic models are often used in watershed assessments where stream flow is important.  These models use local information, such as rainfall and solar energy, to predict runoff from rain and snow melt and thus, stream flows in a watershed,” said Bradshaw.

In addition to knowing what the weather is like at the present time, users can see what has happened around the station in the previous hours and days. 

From an on-the-ground user standpoint, having real time temperatures, as well as trend information, can help prepare for the weather one might experience.  Recent rainfall can give an indication of road condition – are the roads dry and passable; or wet and possibly impassable.  A rise in barometric pressure can indicate clear skies; or a drop can warn of a pending storm.

Users can access the data through MesoWest at http://mesowest.utah.edu/.  The new station is called “Between The Creeks.”

At one time, the Monument had 19 weather stations dotting the landscape.  These stations used cell phones to transmit the data to MesoWest.  As cell phone technology changed, and satellite technology advanced, these stations, while still recording trend data, became obsolete.  

By the end of the summer, Bradshaw plans to have a total of eight of the improved stations up and operating with another four planned for installation next spring/summer. 

While the weather stations can give up-to-the-hour data, visitors are still encouraged to check with the local BLM visitor center or office to get current known travel conditions like road closures due to storm activity, recommended hiking and ATV routes, maps, and other information that will help make their visit a safe and fun experience.