Thursday, September 20, 2018

20 Years in the Making: Restoring the Escalante River

Project photo

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light green/ silvery leaves
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yellowish olive-shaped fruit
Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) is a perennial tree or shrub with light green/silvery leaves that can grow to 30+ feet tall and bears yellowish, olive-shaped fruit. The young trunks and branches of Russian Olive have large 1 to 2 inch thorns. Native to southern Europe and to central and western Asia,  Russian Olive was introduced to the central and western United States in the early 1900's as a horticultural plant. It was cultivated as a hedge, to provide shade and windbreaks, and as a landscape plant for decades and can still be found at plant nurseries throughout the southwest.
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yellow 4-lobed flowers
Since its introduction Russian Olive (RO to weed warriors) has escaped into the rivers and canyons of the southwest where it has become a serious threat to the native plants and animals. Thick stands of Russian Olive crowd the river banks, narrowing the river channel, trapping sediment and changing the water temperature and chemistry, and shading/crowding out native river plants. Fragrant willows, magestic cottonwoods and other native woody shrubs and trees that provide critical shelter, food and habitat to migrant birds, nesting waterfowl, deer, and elk disappear from the river banks as the Russian Olive moves in.


Escalante River just above the ‘Twin Canyons’ between Harris Wash and Choprock
(left\before)    April 30, 1991 — No Russian Olive present. Photo: Bill Wolverton 
(right\after)   April 28, 2010 — 19 years later overrun with Russian Olive. Photo: Bill Wolverton

dani-escalante-23Wilderness Volunteers has been actively working to restore southern Utah's magnificent Escalante River corridor since 1998 by fielding multiple Russian Olive removal projects each year. We've coordinated over 58 week-long volunteer service projects over the last 20 years in cooperation with the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (downstream), Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (upstream), the Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, and the Escalante River Watershed Partnership (ERWP).

The Escalante River runs approximately 90 miles from where the river forms at the merging of the Upper Valley and Birch Creeks to the southeast where it flows into Lake Powell. Volunteers have hiked countless miles into the far reaches of the Escalante to remove Russian Olive. They've used saws, loppers and other small hand tools to cut small RO trees and treated the stumps with herbicide to finish the job. Larger trees were trimmed back, girdled (the bark is removed from the entire circumference of the trunk), and herbicide applied to the cut. Larger RO are often girdled and left standing to minimize the amount of debris on the ground. These trees die and and eventually fall down and are washed out with natural flood activity. 

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Escalante Apr 2011 - 10PA020021


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Just across the river from Choprock Canyon
(left\before)    August 28, 2009 — Photo: Bill Wolverton
(right\after)   May 5, 2010 — Photo: Bill Wolverton
0.25 miles above Choprock Canyon
(left\before)    August 29, 2009 — Photo: Bill Wolverton
(right\after)   October 16, 2010 — Photo: Bill Wolverton
As of late 2017, over 84 miles of the 90 mile river corridor had been cleared from the reservoir up and the prediction is that all 90 miles will have been treated by the end of 2018. This isn't the end of our Russian Olive removal efforts in the Escalante (as some areas will need retreatment) but it is an incredible milestone for a massive restoration undertaking that many didn't think was feasible when removal effort first began.

Thank you to all of the dedicated volunteers, public land agency staff, and tireless weed warriors who have made this possible. 

"Off in the east an isolated storm is boiling over the desert, a mass of lavender clouds bombarding the earth with lightning and trailing curtains of rain. The distance is so great that I cannot hear the thunder. Between here and there and me and the mountains it’s the canyon wilderness, the hoodoo land of spire and pillar and pinnacle where no man lives, and where the river flows, unseen, through the blue-black trenches in the rock."
-Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire


Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase Escalante Partners
 Escalante River Watershed Partnership 
Tom Haberle
Jim Bowman
Amber Hughes
John Sherman
Deborah Northcutt
Bill Sheppard
Carleton Sheppard
Dave Pacheco
Misha Kokotovic
Bill Olmstead
Dan Stevens
Dudley McIlhenny
Curt Mobley
Steve Cole
Robin Rose
Brian Bondy
Jen Jackson-Quintano
Jane Butter
Stephanie Flores
Cass Hopkinson
Brian Miller
Henry Whiteside
Jeff Moorehead
John McLean
Caroline Williams
Tony Zimmer
Chris Riccardo
Don Meaders
Edward Hill
Kathryne Zaborowski
Aaron Crosby
Bill Goolsby

Thursday, September 06, 2018

INTERN BLOG SERIES: No Country for the Uncertain

No Country for the Uncertain
                               by Mary Sanders

views from camp
Our group, tired and focusing heavily on the warm food in front of us, ate dinner quietly, enjoying the remaining hours of sun. It was day four of our project. Dinner was pasta, accompanied by the garlic knots I was assigned to make. Reminder, this is intern that is trying to get as much backcountry cooking experience as possible, there was a lot of effort that went into those knots. A group member was kind enough to compliment my work, and jokingly I responded “at least I did one thing right”. A lot of people laughed. One of the volunteers, Melissa, was not going to let that one fly though. She turned to me and corrected me for undercutting myself. It may seem so small, garlic knots for god sake, but all too often people, especially young women, as Melissa pointed out, brush off their abilities. It took only that moment for there to be a huge realization on my part. Here the group was, in one of the best scenarios to build on skill sets and confidence, as anyone in the backcountry has. It was time to take advantage of it.
the hard hats and rain boots we brought in
the group loading up the truck on day one
This was my very first Wilderness Volunteer Project, and second time backpacking, so to say the least there was a lot to learn. Being in a place like the Never Summer Wilderness, an environment so unfamiliar, a lot can happen. Moments like carrying a heavy cooler across a river on a narrow log, learning how to use a WhisperLite stove, and trying to convince myself the moose outside my tent isn’t going to kill me, were all major points, personally, during that week. The backcountry does not allow questioning of self. It doesn't have time for frustration, selfishness, pride. It’s basically where the seven deadly sins go to die. Quite frankly, I worked hard to adjust, but what was almost more important, was to realize how much progress I was making through the week. It was apparent from Melissa’s comment that there was still some work to be done in that department.

volunteer Melissa working at crossing #2
 leaders Ben and Laura resting on a stringer
It wasn’t just the intern. Everyone in that pack of seven volunteers, and one forest ranger, got to grow a little. Each day members were checking up on one another more, not being so eager to be the first one served at dinner, and seeking out ways to help during down time. The communication got better too. Before picking up a log, there’d be greater clarification of where exactly it needed to be moved, and if the footing was good enough. There was also noticing that a volunteer’s mood was more of a reflection that it was day six on the project, than anything else. This seems to be the way of the backcountry. It doesn’t bring out the best in everyone necessarily, but it can. Because of the challenge, the fact that these individuals get put in such a foreign environment, the superhuman side sometimes makes an appearance.

 Trees plowed down from a previous avalanche, located near the worksite
That’s where the importance of Melissa’s comment comes in. It’s the acknowledgement of the accomplishment, the growth, that is so important. If I’d continued to undercut myself, as I was trying to learn and get comfortable with the work, well it’s like the saying: one step forward, two steps back. The volunteers give so much to the land during a weeklong project, but what might not be recognized, is how much the land gives in return. Would I say I’m a completely different person after returning from the trip? Of course not. Yet, I’m definitely more confident to take on the upcoming project challenges.

Mary is a sophomore at Michigan State University and is the Wilderness Volunteers 2018 Intern. Stay tuned for more blogs about her summer experiences on WV projects!

Friday, August 31, 2018

From the Wilderness Volunteers Board of Directors

 “Keep project fees affordable.”  This has been the mantra of Wilderness Volunteers since its founding in 1997 when just 10 trips were fielded with 120 volunteers.

Today, WV typically organizes 50 week-long service trips from coast to coast with more than 500 volunteer participants.  WV accomplishes this with a very modest Flagstaff office and only two full-time staff members: Executive Director Ashely Northcutt and Program Manager Taryn Schreiner (as of Aug 27, 2018: Aidalicia Swertfeger).  In early August, on behalf of our volunteers, Ashely flew back east to Washington, DC, to accept the “Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Non-Government Partner Award” from the National Park Service, an affirmation of the value that WV delivers to our public lands.

Over the years, WV has been able to keep project fees affordable due to many private donations as well as grants from like-minded organizations that support protecting America’s wild lands.  Since 2011, our project fee has been unchanged at $299, although our actual costs per participant have been nearly $500.  For many of those years, WV has been the thankful recipient of an annually recurring foundation grant of nearly $35,000.  This one grant alone enabled the project fee to be $70 lower than otherwise needed. Unfortunately, 2018 is now the third year in a row for which we will not receive this significant grant.  Furthermore, they have indicated that we should not expect as large an amount in the future as their resources have been spread thin.

Fortunately, withdrawals from WV’s modest endowment have been able to buffer this lost support.  However, this solution is not sustainable.  The Board of Directors would like to honor the mantra of the founders while prudently stewarding the organization as well. 

Given the financial realities, we have no choice but to increase the project fee for 2019, while actively continuing to search for private donations and grants.  We note that a large national organization that conducts identical service trips charged between $425 and $1,995 for their 2017 trips, with an average cost of over $700.  If you have never served on a WV team, don’t let our affordable fee give you the impression that the value we deliver to the participants and public lands agencies is in any way sub-par.  Indeed, we have been told many times by our agency contacts that WV delivers extraordinary value compared to many other volunteer groups.

We solicit your creative comments on how to share in our mission of keeping project fees affordable, while also keeping Wilderness Volunteers financially sound.  We would welcome our supporters introducing WV to any foundations and corporations that can help fill the gap.  Please direct your comments or ideas to WV's Executive Director at

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

We won an award from the National Park Service!

Last week Ashely Northcutt, the Executive Director of Wilderness Volunteers, flew back east to Washington, DC to accept a National Park Service award on behalf of our volunteers.

Click for the Event Program

Dept of the Interior Headquarters, Washington, DC

The ceremony took place in the lower level of the Department of the Interior building and the awards were presented by Ruth Prescott, Chief of Staff for the National Park Foundation, Lena McDowell, Deputy Director of Management and Administration for the National Park Service, and Lenny Teh, Program Manager of Service-wide Volunteer Programs for the National Park Service.

Ruth Prescott, National Park Foundation (photo: NPS)
 "As some of you know the National Park Foundation is the official philanthropic partner of the National Park service. Through our work we seek to raise financial support for private citizens park lovers stewards of nature history enthusiasts and wilderness adventurers to enrich our national parks and its programs. This afternoon it is my honor to celebrate with your our mutual love of these parks and your inspired commitment to the stewardship of these very special places. A commitment made even more real this week with the loss of Captain Bryan Hughes in the line of duty. The efforts, contributions and sacrifices made on a daily basis by NPS staff and volunteers are critical to ensuring public access to our parks and all that they offer. Whether its restoring a trail, interpreting history leading in-park educational programs or providing services at visitor centers, you are second to none. Not only do we hear this from our donors, we personally experience the value you bring when we're lucky enough to get out of the office and into a park. I recently spend a week at Rocky Mountain National Park, a place I've loved since my parents first took me there as a child, but Rocky like so many of our parks, is addressing record crowds. However in spite of the throngs of people, I watched with pride and amazement the patience of the park staff and volunteers as they answered questions, guided tours, directed traffic, awarded junior ranger badges and just generally enhanced the visit for so many of us. And that's just one example from the more than 300 million visits to our parks this year where each of you worked to create an experience unlike any other. That's why we at the Foundation are so honored to be a part of this event year after year to have the opportunity to say thank you and acknowledge the outstanding work of the NPS staff and the over three-hundred thousand volunteers who make visits to our national parks and wildernesses a memory of a lifetime. "
- Ruth Prescott, Chief of Staff for the National Park Foundation

Lena McDowell, National Park Service (photo: NPS)
“The next award is the Wes Henry National Wilderness Stewardship non-government partner award. The Wes Henry National Wilderness Stewardship non-government partner award goes to the Wilderness Volunteers organization. Established in 1997, the mission of this non-profit is stewardship of America’s wild lands through organizing and promoting volunteer service in cooperation with public land agencies, including the NPS. Volunteer leaders and volunteers, ranging from ages 18 to 85, have implemented over 230 week-long service projects in national park units with wilderness and backcountry. The volunteer project work inspires participants to come away from the experience with a new or renewed knowledge and love for wilderness, fostered by the Wilderness Volunteer organization’s commitment to wilderness stewardship. To the entire team of volunteer associates, we are truly grateful for your service.”
- Lena McDowell, Deputy Director of Management and Administration for the National Park Service

Ashely Northcutt, WV ED & Lenny Teh, National Park Service (photo: NPS)
Also honored at the ceremony were the recipients of the George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service, The 2017 Harry Yount National Park Ranger Award, and the Individual and Group Wes Henry National Wilderness Stewardship Awards.

You can watch the entire presentation on the National Park Service Volunteers-in-Parks facebook page at:

NPS Award Ceremony award recipients (photo: NPS)
Letter from the ED:
We are extremely honored to have been selected for the Wes Henry National Wilderness Stewardship Award in the non-government partner category. Wilderness Volunteers exists only due to the dedication of a community of ordinary citizens volunteering their time, labor, and money to give something back to the wild lands they love. Our volunteers enthusiastically hike, backpack and canoe to work building and maintaining trails, installing and repairing erosion controls, removing invasive plants, removing barbed wire fences, revegetating damaged, eroded and burned areas, picking up litter, and removing and rehabilitating illegal campsites. Our individual and corporate donors support our core program and allow us to keep project fees affordable so we can recruit a diverse group of volunteer participants from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. Our volunteers go home with a sense of personal accomplishment & a feeling of pride & ownership toward the public land they visited, becoming wilderness advocates who will fight to protect our wild lands & spread those values to family and friends. 
Thank you to the National Park Service for working so hard to preserve our nation's natural and cultural heritage. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the NPS as we continue to bring together volunteers to address critical projects for our public land agencies and promote engaged community stewardship of our nation’s wild places.
                                 Ashely Northcutt, Executive Director, Wilderness Volunteers

Want to know more? 
You can find get more information and register for service projects at the link below or donate to help us continue putting together low-cost service projects in federal lands across the country. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Wilderness Volunteers honored with National Park Service Award

Today we have some exciting news for our staff, volunteers, supporters and fans...

Wilderness Volunteers has been selected by the National Park Service for the 2017 Wes Henry National Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Award in the external partner category!

The Director’s Wes Henry National Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Award recognizes outstanding contributions to wilderness stewardship by an individual or group and has been presented annually since 1993.

The award was established to recognize and foster excellence in the Agency’s wilderness stewardship efforts by an individual, a group/team, and non-governmental partner (new category), including those involving interpretation and education; management of natural, cultural, and social resources; planning; protection; and maintenance operations.

Award recipients are nominated by National Park Service staff and selected by an interdisciplinary panel. This year's awardees will be recognized during an awards ceremony in Washington, DC in August 2018.

Here's the award write-up from an article published on Inside NPS (internal NPS website):
Non-Government Partner Award: Wilderness Volunteers

"Over 2,400 people have made their way across the nation to volunteer at Apostle Islands, Big Bend, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Haleakala, North Cascades, Pinnacles, Saguaro, Zion, to name just some of the 32 park units where volunteers under the auspices of the service-oriented organization Wilderness Volunteers have taken a week of “vacation” to assist NPS staff with vital projects. Established in 1997, the mission of this non-profit is “stewardship of America's wild lands through organizing and promoting volunteer service in cooperation with public land agencies,” including the NPS. Volunteer leaders and volunteers, ranging from ages 18 to 85, have implemented over 230 week-long service projects in national park units with wilderness and backcountry."

"In the wilderness of Olympic National Park, these volunteers have contributed almost 7,000 hours to the park’s wilderness restoration projects. Work included delineating and improving campsites and preparing tens of thousands of square feet of bare ground for revegetation by breaking up compacted soils with pulaskis and hand tools. The groups’ efforts resulted in successful restoration within the wilderness: expansive areas of compacted bare ground sites now display full-sized native shrubs and a thriving and diverse plant community – a testimony to these volunteers’ outstanding work. Their consistently high quality labor and the amazing quantity of work completed within one week provides critical accomplishments that otherwise would not have occurred. The volunteer project work in turn inspires participants to come away from the experience with a new or renewed knowledge and love for wilderness, fostered by the Wilderness Volunteer's commitment to wilderness stewardship."

Stay tuned for more information as well as a blog post about the award ceremony in August!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Wilderness Volunteers is Now Hiring!

Hey WV'ers, Taryn here. Just popping in to let you all know that I will be leaving the program manager position and moving on to some new parts of life. It has been an absolute pleasure to work for WV these past few years and to have had the opportunity to get to know many of you! My official last day will be on August 17th and I will be working hard in the meantime to set up my successor for a flawless transition!

Having said that, we now have a staff position open. Check out the job listing on the website under About WV and Employment. There is also a link at the bottom of this page. Please send this around to anyone you feel would be interested or qualified!

Check out the job listing and put in your application today!

INTERN BLOG SERIES: Wilderness Volunteers v. Pele the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire

A true Hawaii Volcanoes National Park greeting. 
The group figuring out our next day plan.

All ten Wilderness Volunteers were sitting in a circle in our cabin living room. Having just arrived to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we were allowed through the gate, passing a sign that read “park closed due to increased seismic activity”. Us and a select number of park employees were the only ones currently in the 300,000 acre park.

Jordan Barthold, the National Parks employee who had been coordinating with Wilderness Volunteers on this trail maintenance project was also in the room. She explained to us what was happening to the project since the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that struck the big island of Hawaii the previous day. That event had prompted the immediate evacuation of over 2,000 park visitors, and park closure for at least the weekend.

My expectation, knowing the conservative nature of federal land agencies regarding safety, was that the project would be officially cancelled and we’d have just that night to stay at the cabin, and figure out new plans. However, to my surprise, our project was still a possibility according to Jordan. If the seismic activity died down, there was a chance we could delay our project one or two days, and still get in the field to complete the trail work. For the next 72 hours, our fate was determined by the Hawaiian goddess of fire, Pele. Until then, the crew was essentially on house arrest, not allowed to wander far from the cabin, and only leaving the park during pre-planned hours, approved by Jordan.

Scanning the room, the volunteers seemed to be in deep thought, asking only a few clarifying questions. One of the trip leaders, John McLean, then added that there was no obligation for any of the volunteers to make this kind of commitment. Given the unique circumstances, the trip fee would be reimbursed for anyone if they chose to no longer stay with the project. But no one backed out. Given that we were in Hawaii, and there were so many things one could do on the island, it was really impressive to see that level of commitment from the volunteers.

We went around the room giving basic introductions such as names, hometown, history with WV, and by request of volunteer Maren, a food that matched the first letter of their first name. There was John and James our two father and son leaders. Tanya, James’ girlfriend who was currently living on the big island. Ted and Maren, the pair from California that weren’t scared by any mini-earthquakes that we endured. Sayyed, who was also from California, and had already read a great deal about the island before coming. John no. 2 who was a veteran volunteer and this was one of his four projects this year. Deni, who had travelled from upstate New York to do her first Wilderness Volunteers trip, by recommendation of her friend Larry, also present. And me, the intern who’d finished her finals, and left for this project the next day. It wasn’t long after these introductions that we started brainstorming ideas of what we wanted to do with our free time the next day.

Snorkeling in beautiful Kapoho Tide Pools
Exploring the misty Kapapala Forest Reserve (photo credits to Sayyed)

The next day the group split into two day trips. James, Tanya, and I snorkeled and the rest went for a day hike. On our return drive to the park, trying to make it back by the agreed upon time, James notified Tanya and I that the park had reopened, and we would be packing out Tuesday. I was thrilled. Back at the cabin, while helping prep for dinner, I overheard James discussing with Larry the new news, and almost didn’t believe my ears. After catching drift that our project was okayed, the Superintendent of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park stepped in and officially cancelled it, out of concerns for safety.

For at least a moment I’d say most of the volunteers were pretty somber about the cancellation. We wholly understood and respected the decision to cancel the trip, the park has worked with the volcanoes through its entire history and has a deep working knowledge of the system. It was simply a hard pill for us to swallow. Luckily the mood didn’t last long in the room, Tanya and James made an amazing Hawaiian dinner, and we celebrated Ted’s birthday with a beautiful guava cake. Pretty soon we had all started making plans with our newfound time on the island. 

In the following days the group started on new adventures. Like most of the volunteers I stayed at the cabin a couple more days before going to other parts of the island. Larry, Deni, and I hiked over misty lava fields and talked to park rangers about the recent geologic events. One night we got dinner at a military bowling alley with John, James, and Tanya. Having all this fun in some ways made not doing the project harder because I enjoyed being with them so much. Luckily there’s still more work to be done in other, less volcanically-active, parts of the US. I’m sure I’ll see them in the field.

 Mary is a sophomore at Michigan State University and is the Wilderness Voluneers 2018 Intern. Catch her upcoming blogs throughout the summer!