Land Caretakers and Untrammeled Places
story and photos by Karen L. Monsen
“As Hopi, we don’t own the land; we’re just the caretakers.” ~ Martin Gashweseoma from The Book of Elders
Wilderness is defined in the 1964 U.S. Wilderness Act as “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Although untrammeled (from Latin and Middle English) is seldom heard in conversation, it aptly describes undisturbed places. Today’s exceptional land caretakers include The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land—two non-profits who safeguard habitats and untrammeled places by purchasing them.
The Nature Conservancy
Incorporated in 1951, the Conservancy’s mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends, through acquisition, conservation easements, and
partner collaboration. In its sixty-five year history, the Conservancy has protected 5,000 river miles, more than 119 million acres of land, and operates more than one hundred marine conservation projects. They employ more than six hundred scientists and have approximately one million members.
From southern Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon to southern Utah’s White Dome Nature Preserve, the Nature Conservancy employs non-confrontational methods to implement pragmatic solutions. In 1988, the Conservancy, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Howard Hughes Corporation created the 5,302-acre Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas—supporting desert species and providing public access for hiking, biking, rock-climbing, and outdoor recreation.
West Desert Regional Director, Elaine York states, “As of 2016, the Conservancy’s Utah Chapter holds fourteen managed preserves and thirty-four conservation easements, and has completed over two hundred conservation projects with partners.” They have secured almost one million acres of public and private land in Utah for people and nature, including Lytle Ranch Preserve, a wildlife and bird sanctuary near St. George, purchased by the Conservancy and later sold to Brigham Young University—permanently protecting it for ecological studies.
York adds, “At the Conservancy, we are doing all we can to protect critically important habitats, to transform how we use lands, and to inspire better land-use practices in the geographies that are facing the most pressure for development.” In arid Utah, they are working with partners to ensure there is enough water for people and nature by helping restore and protect habitat for the Great Salt Lake and flows for seven major rivers including the Virgin.
White Dome Nature Preserve
Partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Utah, and Washington County, the Conservancy protected eight hundred habitat acres for two plants found nowhere else on Earth—the Dwarf Bear Poppy and Siler Pincushion Cactus. The poppy, named for lobed leaves resembling bear paws with silver hair claws, blooms in April and thrives in the gypsum-rich hills south of St. George. As soon as the preserve opened with five miles of hiking trails, informational kiosks, and parking area, York noted, “We heard as many as 30 people were visiting every day to enjoy the poppies and be outdoors. That is a great feeling and keeps us going!”
The Conservancy also worked with the St. George BLM Field Office and other partners on Landscape Conservation Forecasting™ which York describes as, “a cutting-edge planning methodology for the two Washington County National Conservation Areas (Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash).” Using satellite imagery, habitat models, and on-the-ground expertise, York explains, “The tool offers conservation action plans that make a difference for a reasonable cost. It’s a win-win.”
The Trust for Public Land (TPL)
Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land works to “create close-to-home parks—particularly in and near cities, where eighty percent of Americans live.” They assist communities in purchasing land, protecting wildlife habitat, and renovating parks and trails. In 2013, TPL purchased forty acres of inholdings for Utah’s Red Cliffs Area bordering St. George—with one hundred and thirty miles of hiking, mountain biking, equestrian trails, camping, and day-use areas.
“Our goal is to ensure that every child has easy access to a safe place to play in nature,” their website affirms. “We also conserve working farms, ranches, and forests; lands of historical and cultural importance; rivers, streams, coasts, and watersheds; and other special places where people can experience nature close at hand.”
In 2016, TPL protected 62,134 acres, generated more than three hundred and twenty-nine million dollars for parks and natural spaces, and completed one hundred and twenty-eight projects and twenty strategic conservation plans. Using public/private partnerships, TPL created the National Conservation Easement Database recording an estimated forty million acres of conservation easement lands throughout the United States.
With fewer places untouched by humans, the Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land are exemplary non-profit land caretakers devoted to maintaining untrammeled places for habitat biodiversity, recreation, and spiritual renewal.
“We believe all of nature, from a blade of grass to the tallest mountain, has a spirit. We seek Landscape Temples and trees to give us messages direct from the Creator. If nature is destroyed, the Creator cannot send us messages.” ~ Kaye Whitefeather Robinson Daughter of Blackfeet (tribe) father and Liverpool England mother