Utah Youth Explore, Restore the Wonders of the BLM’s First National Monument

The Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners (GSEP) introduce students to the wonders of the BLM’s 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalane National Monument in southern Utah.  

The Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners is the Friends Group for the BLM’s first National Monument.
Their focus on educating students and underserved youth about the Monument supports the Secretarial Order directing the NLCS “to inspire the next generation of natural resource and public lands stewards by engaging youth through education, interpretation, partnerships, and job opportunities.”
Photo by Kristina Waggoner, Field Director, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners. Utah Conservation Crew, one of the Youth Initiative groups working to implement stream restoration projects with GSEP and the Escalante River Watershed Partnership, hiking into their backcountry work site where they will spend 10 weeks (8 days on 6 days off) cutting out invasive Russian olive trees along the Escalante River.In 2011, more than 940 students and educators participated in GSEP events at the Monument. GSEP’s 2012 education outreach program reached 1,200 students and educators and connected local schools to the Monument’s cultural and natural resources. The program includes an online state-certified teaching curriculum and archeological and paleontological-themed discovery trunks. 
The Partnership also involves high school students in native plant restoration and stream bank willow plantings. 
GSEP’s work extends beyond education as the partners work to remove invasive plant species. Through the Escalante River Watershed Partnership, the GSEP has raised more than $700,000 in non-federal funds for removing Russian Olive—an invasive plant species—from the Escalante River Watershed, and an area that includes the Monument, as well as, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service lands. GSEP raised an additional $376,000 in the first half of 2012 for additional projects on the Monument, including invasive plant removal.
Taken by Amber Hughes, Botanist, Bureau of Land Management. Escalante River Watershed Partnership partners took a field trip to visit a Utah Conservation Crew working to remove Russian Olive along the Escalante River during the October 3 partnership meeting.The Escalante River Watershed Partnership is one of ten river restoration projects in the western states selected by Secretary Salazar as a model for "America's Great Outdoors Rivers Initiative.”
GSEP volunteers have donated 15,000 hours of their time to give the public an enjoyable and educational experience at the Monument. GSEP’s president received the BLM’s 2011 National Volunteer Award for Making a Difference on Public Land.
Their dedication to the Monument is exemplified in a recent water resource restoration project.  Federal funding did not exist to restore the fresh water habitat for the Old Corral Spring, a seep-spring on the Monument. Free-ranging livestock had degraded the moist soils of the spring and the non-native plant Tamarisk had overtaken native plants. GSEP stepped in to raise the necessary funds to keep the spring an authentic experience for the public. At the same time, the Monument’s partners provided employment opportunities to the local Paiute youth who participated in the restoration efforts.
In addition, GSEP directs the collaboration of friends groups who coordinate protecting and restoring National Conservation Lands across the Colorado Plateau through the GSEP-founded Colorado Plateau Coalition (CPC). CPC emphasizes the importance of landscape-scale, ecosystem-based conservation, one of the theme’s in the National Landscape Conservation System’s 15-year strategy. In 2011, The GSEP received The Public Lands Foundation’s 2011 Landscape Stewardship Certificate of Appreciation.
BLM-Utah (Sarah Schlanger, Associate Monument Manager, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument) nominated this program for the Secretary’s Partners in Conservation Awards. The Department will announce those selected for formal recognition October 18. 
The Interior Department’s Partners in Conservation Awards Program recognizes partnerships that promote conservation, protect natural and cultural resources, use innovative approaches for resource management, and engage youth and diverse entities in accomplishing the Interior Department’s mission.