The Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (Partners) was honored by being presented a “Friends Conservation Leadership Award” at the recent annual Rendezvous held in Las Cruces, New Mexico. On behalf of the Partners Board of Directors and staff, President Mike Putiak, from Boulder, and Executive Director Noel Poe, from Kanab, received the award presented by the Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF). Included with the plaque was a $5,000 check.

This award is given to the BLM Friends Group that has shown outstanding leadership in the last year to advance the protection of their associated National Conservation Lands unit through visionary, innovative and strategic projects. When announcing the award, CLF Director Betsy Buffington stated the GSE Partners was selected because they had undertaken projects that have a meaningful impact on the ground. The projects include restoration, constituency building, education and helping to protect nationally significant resources.

Poe stated Partners has four major projects and several minor projects. The largest of the four is the restoration of the Escalante River by removing the non-native invasive Russian olive. In 2014, Partners spent $1,410,000 to combat the Russian olive on public lands within the Escalante Watershed. Over $933,000 (66 percent) was raised from private foundations grants and the Utah Partners for Conservation and Development. This project was recognized by the CLF as the largest restoration project underway on any of the 874 BLM units that make up the National Conservation Lands System. 

The other three major projects managed by the Partners include Archeological Site Stewardship program where 35 volunteers randomly monitor over 90 archaeological sites on Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Kanab Field Office; the Paleontological Laboratory and Outreach Program that uses 15 volunteers to assist with the preparation of the fossil resources recovered in the National Monument; and the Education and Outreach Programs that work with the teachers and children from schools around the National Monument. 

Three examples of minor, but important projects, include the Oral History Project that records stories and information from local and regional residents who live and work in this area prior to the establishment of the Monument. Also the storing of all the research that has been done in the Monument since the early 1990s into a publicly-assessed database at Southern Utah University and the rehabilitation of Corral Springs with assistance from the Kaibab Paiute elders and youth. 

To do this work that assists in meeting the goals and mission of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument management, Partners hires 10 employees and dozens of volunteers. A 10-member volunteer Board of Directors from communities adjacent to the National Monument governs the non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Partners has offices in Escalante and Kanab, with five staff in each office. 

Conservation Lands Foundation is an umbrella non-profit foundation that manages the Friends Grassroots Network. The network consists of 59 Friends Groups around the western United States.  Each of these community-based Friends Groups work with their BLM office to help with projects within that specific National Monument, National Conservation Area, National Trail, Wilderness Area, or National River Unit. There are 874 such specially-designed Nationally Conservation Lands units managed by the BLM in the western United States. 

To learn more about the GSE Partners, go to their website www.gsenm.org. You can also follow the Partners activities on Facebook.