September 26th will mark National Public Lands Day, and high volunteerism is expected in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wilderness and other protected areas. Volunteerism on public lands -- which helps overburdened federal land managers maintain trails, pick up trash and more -- is on the rise nationally in BLM’s conservation lands and is significantly improving conservation efforts on Utah’s public lands. In 2007 and 2008, citizens spent more than 25,000 hours volunteering in Conservation System areas in Utah, at a value of more than a half million dollars.
Volunteer turnout around Public Lands Day is expected to be particularly high in lands that are part of the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System. The system, which contains 27 million acres of conservation designations, was established in 2000 and took a large step forward when Congress established it permanently this March in the same legislation that designated new protected areas in Washington County. Volunteerism is expected to increase in the conservation system due in part to publicity around its permanent recognition by Congress this year.
“We know how many people were excited to see Utah’s new additions to the National Landscape Conservation System and are thrilled to see how much public enthusiasm there is for helping protect these special places,” said Ray Bloxham of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which is working with BLM to recruit and coordinate volunteers. “The volunteerism is particularly exciting as BLM prepares to celebrate the Conservation System’s tenth anniversary next year.”
In Utah, volunteers with Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Sierra Club will maintain trails, remove unauthorized fire rings, restore areas impacted by vehicle tracks entering Wilderness Study Areas (WSA), sign WSA boundaries, remove graffiti and monitor ancient archeological sites for illegal digging and vandalism on Cedar Mesa. At the newly designated Red Butte Wilderness Area in southwestern Utah’s Washington County, volunteers will help to implement the new Wilderness designation by eliminating vehicle tracks that enter the area, signing area boundaries where appropriate, rehabilitating and removing unsightly fire rings and generally cleaning up trash. Last week at the Westwater Canyon Wilderness Study Area, volunteers removed trash and non-native species and cleaned up campsites along the Colorado River.
Volunteerism on National Landscape Conservation System lands demonstrates the value of these special places to the public, with volunteerism increasing overall in the System. Last year, citizens across the country donated 344,000 hours of work at a value of nearly $7 million, equal to 13% of the System’s entire budget. The System’s lean budget makes these contributions even more valuable: last year, the System received barely more than $2.50 per acre for management, much less than other federal public lands systems. “There is no greater opportunity for the Conservation System to live up to its potential than to invest in volunteer programs,” said Rose Chilcoat of Great Old Broads for Wilderness.
“We’d love to see BLM commit a few more staff to these programs,” added John Garder of The Wilderness Society. “For almost $20 in returns for every dollar spent, they could see additional on-the-ground restoration projects that would return their investment tenfold, while also training the next generation of land managers.”