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Many Opportunities for Scientific Inquiry at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
The dramatic and colorful geologic features within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument give rise to a diversity of plants and animals that find refuge in the immense ecosystem covering 1.9 million acres in southern Utah. This vast landscape also protects world class fossils and archaeological resources, offering possibilities for scientific inquiry as diverse as the landscape itself. 

The spectacular array of scientific and historic resources was recognized in the Presidential proclamation creating the monument in 1996. Opportunities for science abound; archaeology, biology, geology, history and paleontology are integral to the Monument’s management. A priority is to ensure that the scientific resources most at risk are studied, collected, or recorded. Emphasis also is placed on gathering baseline data and encouraging applied research.

Over the past decade, hundreds of scientists and dozens of universities have conducted research within the Monument and many of their findings will had a prominent place at A Decade of Discovery, a science symposium celebrating the 10th anniversary of the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, May 24 - 28. The event was sponsored by the BLM in partnership with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Ten papers and two posters featuring science at the Monument were presented, including a summary of research opportunities, Past, Present and Future – Science on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.


The Monument is a world-renown repository of dinosaur fossils. Several sites in the Monument have yielded more information about the end of the dinosaur era than almost any other place in the world. Fossils of many species of dinosaurs and other animals, large and small, have been found, revealing new information about what North America was like before the dinosaurs vanished. A comprehensive field-based inventory and research project on Late Cretaceous geology and paleontology of the Kaiparowits Plateau was summarized in The Rise of the Kaiparowits Basin as a Global Scientific Resource. Using latest technology to map dinosaur tracks was a focus of Tracking Technological Advancement: Close-Range Photogrammetry at the Twentymile Wash Dinosaur Tracksite, Then and Now, one of several presentations about the site where hundreds of Middle Jurassic dinosaur tracks are exposed.


Evidence of the history of human occupation of the Colorado Plateau can also be found in the Monument, and the science symposium showcased some of the latest findings. Presentations included Archaic Peoples of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Obsidian on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument: Who Broke the Glass on the Staircase? and The Tommy Turf Site 42Ka6032: A Basketmaker II Burial from Kane County.
Natural Resources

A rich variety of plants and animals is supported by the varied topography of the Monument’s Colorado Plateau ecosystem. Restoration and protection of the Monument’s natural resources is a topic of high scientific interest. The work of the Escalante River Watershed Partnership was highlighted in Escalante River Watershed Restoration. This new partnership includes numerous local stakeholders and is committed to restoring and maintaining the natural ecological conditions of the Escalante River and its watershed. A poster session, Investigation Into Water Quality Issues in Calf Creek, Garfield County, Utah, also explored the work of this partnership in the watershed.

Preliminary Evaluation of the Invasive Species Forecasting System in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument: NASA's Applied Sciences Program described NASA’s work with various agencies of the Department of the Interior to develop the Invasive Species Forecasting System to help resource managers understand the potential distribution of invasive terrestrial plants.  Presentations also included a native plant restoration project in collaboration with students and teachers at Kanab High School, Native Plant Restoration Project – Kanab High School and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Fire restoration was explored in the poster session A Promising Approach to Fire Rehabilitation in a Southern Utah Pinyon-Juniper Woodland.

The Monument Today

Today the Monument supports a number of uses such as livestock grazing and recreation, also the subject of scientific inquiry. In Effects of Past Management Treatments on Vegetation Structure, presenters described the long term response of vegetation and soils to rangeland improvement treatments conducted in the Monument from the 1960s to the 1980s. Front Country Visitor Study for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument presented recent findings about recreation use, visitor characteristics and perceptions, and the relationship between visitation and other Monument values. The Southern Utah Oral History Project: A Record of Living with the Land described efforts to preserve some of the memories and culture of long-time residents of the area.
Partnerships are Key
Much of the research at the Monument is accomplished through formal assistance agreements with the Cooperative Educational Studies Units. A robust program of science and research brings new information to BLM staff and managers, and in many cases, creates an innovative environment for adaptive management, resulting in the best possible decisions about stewardship of our national resources.

To help visitors appreciate the scientific importance of these spectacular landscapes, the Monument's four visitor centers highlight the range of research being conducted in its "outdoor laboratories" -- paleontology (Big Water), archaeology and geology (Kanab), history and Paiute culture (Cannonville), and ecology (Escalante). Engaging exhibits and a Junior Scientist program invite visitors to share the fruits of discovery and excitement of this magnificent place.

To learn more about Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, please click here.

To read more features and learn more about A Decade of Discovery Science Symposium, please click here.

Dinosaur excavation at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Excavation at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Evidence of past human occupation at the Monument.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Escalante River
Escalante River
Lower Calf Creek Falls
Lower Calf Creek Falls