Science

Expanding knowledge and understanding of the natural wonders, biodiversity, and unique ecosystems with which this landscape is endowed by participating in scientific inquiry and historical investigation, as well as advocating for the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge in land management decision-making.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Science

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was set aside in 1996 to protect objects of scientific and cultural value. In his proclamation designating the Monument, President Bill Clinton noted the area’s “exemplary opportunities for geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, historians, and biologists.” Named for the series of cliffs and terraces extending from Bryce Canyon National Park to the Grand Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante preserves hundreds of millions of years of geologic history, including ancient sand dunes, shorelines, and some of the most complete and stunning dinosaur fossil beds anywhere in the world. Ancient Pueblo and Fremont peoples inhabited the area for millennia, leaving behind evidence of their culture in the form of rock art, pottery, cliff dwellings, granaries, and ceremonial sites. More recently, Hopi, Paiute, Zuni, Ute, and Navajo peoples called this area home. Grand Staircase Escalante spans five distinct ecoregions, with a wide array of habitat types and high degree of diversity in birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, and plants. It is “perhaps the richest floristic region in the intermountain west.”

Key to Our Mission

Grand Staircase Escalante Partners’ Science and Monitoring Plan is a critical component of our efforts to honor the past and safeguard the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by advocating for science, sound monitoring, and adaptive management practices. Click to learn more.

Climate Change

Threats abound, however. The Southwest United States is in the grip of a historic “megadrought”, the worst in 1,200 years. Less precipitation is falling, and when it does it comes in the form of more intense monsoon storms. Drier soils are less able to absorb moisture, meaning more of it runs off, unavailable to plants and animals and contributing to increased erosion and flash flooding. This feedback cycle, called “desertification”, creates accelerating stresses on plants and ecosystems, and has been called the “greatest environmental challenge of our time”.

The effects of climate change are also being felt throughout the Monument. The years since 1950 have been the hottest in the Southwest in at least the last 600, with 2001-2010 being the warmest decade on record. The Grand Staircase may experience severe consequences in the coming decades as temperatures continue to rise and precipitation patterns change, further contributing to desertification. The rich communities of plants and wildlife found here, including many rare and threatened species, will also feel the heat, forcing them to adapt or move to areas that are more suitable.

30×30

The 30×30 initiative was established by the Biden administration to address these threats by pledging to protect 30 percent of America’s land (up from 12%) and waters by 2030. The initiative is intended to “protect biodiversity, slow extinction rates, and help leverage natural climate solutions.” Preserving large tracts of land, such as Grand Staircase-Escalante, will be crucial to allow for climate adaptation in native plants and animals and for continued life support systems such as clean water and air.

 Research

Grand Staircase Escalante Partners works with state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and independent researchers to design and implement research projects with the goal of protecting and preserving GSENM. Some recent projects include:

  • Riparian bird surveys. Researchers from Utah State University Extension conducted bird surveys along riparian corridors in the upper Escalante River watershed that were treated for woody invasive species Russian olive and tamarisk, to compare habitat to pre-treatment conditions. Endangered species such as the southwest willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) relies on healthy riparian habitat, and has been found in the region.
  • Habitat enhancement for native fish. As part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service project, GSEP staff treated tamarisk, an invasive species, along a tributary to the Escalante River, depositing cuttings to create cover and increase habitat complexity for three fish species of conservation concern in Utah: roundtail chub (Gila robusta) , bluehead sucker (Catostomus discobolus), and flannelmouth sucker (Catostomus latipinnis).
  • Bees and pollinators. A widely publicized study by independent researcher Dr. Olivia Carril revealed that GSENM is home to an astonishing 660 species of bees! We are working with Dr. Carrill repeat this work to see how pollinator communities have changed since the study was conducted.
  • Rapid monitoring. GSEP staff works with conservation crews monitor permanent plots throughout the Escalante River watershed where Russian olive and tamarisk has been treated. They collect data on native vegetation recovery and retake photographs to compare to pre-treatment conditions.

 Symposium

In March of 2022, Southern Utah University and the Escalante River Watershed Partnership jointly hosted a two-day, virtual symposium entitled “Ways of Understanding and Protecting Land and Water Resources in the Grand Staircase-Escalante Region, which was centered on diverse ways of knowing across the Monument’s vast landscape. The gathering brought together over 160 people including land managers, Tribes, researchers, conservation groups, and interested public to learn and discuss multiple perspectives on land and water, ecosystem management issues, and ways people engage with the landscape. View all 40 recorded presentations.

Resource Management Plan

A new Resource Management Plan (RMP) for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is currently being drafted by the Bureau of Land Management. The RMP is the basis for land planning on the Monument and will determine the future of the resources, objects, and values for which it was established.

We need your voice! Public comments are crucial to the RMP process. For information how to involved, please contact Kevin Berend (kevin@gsenm.org).

 

 

Questions about our work or research opportunities in Grand Staircase?

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Community Lectures and Learning

Learn about Monument’s robust work from expert paleontologists, geologicalists, biologists, and more through our Community Lectures and Ask and Expert events. 

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