Hello, I’m Kevin Berend, the Conservation Programs Manager for Grand Staircase Escalante Partners.

Six years ago I took a seasonal job in northwestern Colorado studying greater sage grouse, a summer spent among the dusty cliffs and gulches of the upper Colorado Plateau. During that time, I recognized a deep affinity for the landscape within me, and I also began to realize, through the field work I was engaged in, the immense scientific value the Colorado Plateau holds for history, anthropology, geology, paleontology, biodiversity, climate change, and more. In a sense, this landscape holds the keys to a depth of understanding of our environment like no other place in our country, or world. I’m very excited to be joining this organization at such an important time for the conservation of Grand Staircase-Escalante, and I am grateful to return to the landscape that so resonated with me back then.

Now, as I look forward to making the move across the country from Buffalo, New York to Escalante, Utah I am looking out my window onto sights that I have not seen for a long time. Tulips are coming up, forsythias are in bloom, and the trees have taken on a green halo as leaves emerge from their buds. I can smell the damp richness of the soil, finally thawed. Robins and wrens and cardinals are all announcing their presence in song. Spring has arrived.

Each spring, I am grateful for these small things, signs of renewal after a period of winter dormancy. No matter how long, the land remembers. 

It’s fitting that spring is also when we celebrate Earth Day, a recognition of the interconnected air, water, and land that sustain us all. In declaring Earth Day in 1970, Congress made a statement—the Earth is more than just physical space to be occupied, resources to be harvested, a wasteland to throw our refuse. It is our home, one we share with all living creatures. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to maintain those connections, and to strengthen them where they have waned.

In few places is that interconnectedness more obvious than in southern Utah, where scarcity and extremes bring the tenacity of life into sharp relief. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a biological hotspot, spanning four ecoregions and hosting innumerable species of plants, insects, and wildlife, and their habitats. It also contains world-class cultural, paleontological, and geological sites.

The Biden administration, in its 2021 proclamation on Earth Day, harkened back to the day’s original spirit, then went further:

“Over half a century later, that legacy lives on in the chorus of courageous young people across the world who are rising up to demand action on climate change… Our youth remind us that a better world is within our grasp. Today, I say to young people fighting for a brighter future: We hear you. We see you. We will not let you down.”

With the effects of climate change already a reality in the West, a healthy Grand Staircase-Escalante is a buffer against those effects. This Earth Day I’m thankful for the Biden administration’s reinstatement of the original monument boundaries. And I’m grateful to be here, overseeing the work that GSEP does to protect and conserve this landscape we call home.

That’s why I’m asking for your support. As we look forward to the kick-off of the Monument’s resource management planning process in June, our organization is in a strong position to help shape the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I’m excited to be involved in the work we are doing, work that is:

  • Impactful: Results of 2021 monitoring showed that removal of invasive Russian olive from the Escalante River watershed has been successful in allowing for natural stream channeling and recruitment of native vegetation. This work supports healthy riparian habitats, which are critical for fish and wildlife living within the Escalante watershed.

  • Data driven: We continue to update our Science & Monitoring Plan for the Monument—this document is aimed at helping to inform future management decisions, with a focus on ecology, archaeology, paleontology, and climate adaptation. In addition, we are working closely with the ERWP (Escalante River Watershed Partnership) Climate Change Committee to continue bioblitz work on the Upper Sand Creek Research Natural Area (RNA). This work is aimed at monitoring, documenting, and interpreting climate change impacts on natural ecological systems, and creating place-based data sets that encourage future scientific research. So far, the group working on the bio-blitzes has confirmed 183 species of vascular plants, 15 species of bryophytes, and 75 species of lichens on the RNA. Scientific research on the monument is being expanded both by academic institutions and in pilot programs for weather and hydrology monitoring.

  • Inclusive: Traditional Ecological Knowledge is an important resource for land managers and Tribal input is essential for proper management. GSEP has been supporting gatherings with Tribal representatives on the Monument and hosting virtual Tribal Listening sessions to build and strengthen relationships and better understand Tribal interests and perspectives related to Grand Staircase. We are advocating for Tribal engagement at leadership levels for decision-making and for more access to important cultural sites and the landscape overall for traditional practices. We are also partnering with The Wilderness Society, the Museum of Northern Arizona Archaeology Division, and the Bureau of Land Management to conduct cultural resource inventories on the Monument, an important step in being able to protect sensitive cultural sites.

This Earth Day, I invite you to partner with us by becoming a new member or by increasing your investment in our work to conserve Grand Staircase-Escalante. I look forward to working closely with our community partners, Tribal representatives, the Bureau of Land Management, ERWP, and all of you to bring our collective vision of a conservation priority for the Monument to fruition. And I look forward to calling this culturally significant and scientifically rich landscape — our Monument — home.

 With gratitude,
Kevin Berend

Conservation Programs Manager