Winterfat shrub found in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Winterfat shrub is found in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument near Kanab, Utah. (BLM)

Native Plant Restoration at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

By Beth Kampschror

On a field trip to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Barbara Warner, a science teacher at Kanab High School, quizzed 10 students about plants on the scrubby flats of Petrified Hollow, some 20 miles east of Kanab, Utah.  “What’s this one here?” she asked, pointing at the compact, gray-green bushes dotting the plain.  “Sage,” students called out.  “Winterfat,” they agreed about another shrub.

Satisfied with their identification of the plants, Warner then scattered the students to collect winterfat seeds.  “Don’t strip the plants—just fill these bags about half way,” she said, demonstrating with a plastic sandwich bag.  The students fanned out on the plain.  Within 10 minutes, they’d filled their quota.

Plant identification and seed collection are just a small part of a project that studies, grows, and reestablishes native plants within the monument.  The native plant restoration project matches students in Warner’s natural resource management class with BLM staff from the monument and the Kanab Field Office.  An education coordinator funded by Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) ( works out the logistics of bringing students and the BLM together.

As fall turns to winter, students plant the seeds they’ve collected in the school greenhouse; in springtime, they will plant the seedlings within the monument.  The BLM plans to extend the project to other schools surrounding the monument. 

Warner’s class in Kanab is popular, with enrollment increasing every year.  “The students in my natural resource management class really enjoy working with the BLM staff, and they take great pride in the winterfat plants they’ve raised from seed and transplanted to their new homes at the national monument,” she said.

At Petrified Hollow on a chilly fall morning, Allan Bate, a rangeland management specialist, and Web Staley, a biological science technician, taught the students how to systematically identify and count the number of plant species in a given area while GSEP’s education coordinator, Wade Parsons, showed another group of students how to map winterfat stands with global positioning system (GPS) technology.

Parsons, whose background includes nearly 20 years of teaching, as well as more than a decade of field archaeology, said the students learn quickly.  “They’ve learned more than they realize,” Parsons said, adding that a former Kanab High School student landed a job with the BLM in St. George thanks to the GPS and mapping skills he learned in the class.  “Those are real world skills, and students can use them in any land management agency.”

Beth Kampschror is the former communications coordinator for the Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, the nonprofit friends group that supports the monument.