The removal of Russian olive in the Escalante Watershed is a hard and dirty job. Thankfully, that’s the expertise of the local Conservation Corps.
Conservation Corps have been around since the 1930’s. It all started with the Civilian Conservation Corps which was created to help employ young men who had trouble finding work after the Great Depression. Today, Conservations Corps are making a comeback, offering hands on training in the field and encouraging environmental stewardship. Most corps are run through AmeriCorps, a civil society program supported by the U.S. Federal Government. AmeriCorps members receive an education award upon
completion of their contract, along with a living stipend during their service.
After finishing chainsaw work on public land in 2019, the ERWP entered the “Monitoring and Maintenance Phase” of the Escalante River Restoration project. But, by no means is the work complete. We still have hundreds of acres of retreatments work and project monitoring every year. Conservation Corps crews continues to be used for both public and private lands work throughout the 1.3 million-acre watershed.
Corps members are not only influential for the project, but for the towns of Escalante and Boulder, in general. During the height of Russian olive control work in the area, as many as 80 corps members came to the community. Now that restoration work has entered the Monitoring and Maintenance Phase, the corps send crews throughout the year for different projects across the watershed. Visiting corpsmembers also help boost the local economy. For example, in 2014 the Utah Conservation Corps rented out the Escalante city park for their base camp. The money provided to the city from the corps was used to help fund a new water splash park for the Escalante community.
We would like to thank Utah Conservation Corps, Arizona Conservation Corps, Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps, Canyon Country Youth Corps and Southwestern Conservation Corps for their hard work and continued dedication to our watershed.
“I love the environment out here. Especially working in the backcountry, you get to see things that no one gets to see like this. The beauty of everything that comes and goes. I think that’s the reason I come back.“
-Tyna Black, (Native American, female crew lead, 3rd year with Canyon Country Youth Corps) Monument Valley, UT
“Just knowing people care about it so much makes me care about it more. Knowing that we had some sort of impact no matter how small, even if it’s only a mile of the river, it’s something we were able to do. This (canyon) has been my home. I live out here more than I do in Cedar City. I got attached to it, I guess.“
-Joseph Klingelhutz (Utah Conservation Corps)
“I like meeting new people from all over the rest of the United States. I learn a lot from them. I come back for the scholarships too. I’ve already gotten three of them…“
-Forest (Canyon Country Youth Corps)
One Corpsmember's Story
By Laura Berbusse
“There I was, knee-deep in the dark, cold water of the Escalante River, miles and miles from any sign of urban development. As my worn, military-style leather boots sank in, so did the realization that, just three weeks before, I was bicycling under rows of palm trees to my office job in Honolulu.
“Huh,” I calmly said aloud over the high-pitched buzz of my fellow crew member’s chain saw, looking up at the tangled mass of thorny Russian olive branches hanging over the bank and the soggy, leafy debris floating by.
I first stumbled upon Utah Conservation Corps (UCC) while searching for jobs in Salt Lake City. I had yearned to become involved in corps work ever since a friend served as a summer youth crew leader for Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, but my full-time job did not allow me the time to participate. My recent completion of my master’s degree in linguistics and my subsequent decision to move to Utah set the stage for me to finally reach my goal.
Oddly enough, it is my background in humanities that fueled my interest in environmental conservation. During my graduate studies in linguistics, I learned that languages do not exist in isolation but necessarily change as their speakers adapt to the changing environment around them. Additionally, and unfortunately, many environmental problems are created or accelerated by human activity. One need look no further than the Escalante River in southern Utah to witness the havoc the invasive Russian olive tree has wreaked on the watershed and its native ecosystem (e.g., competing with native plants for resources, shading and cooling the Escalante River—a naturally warm river—causing native fish to disappear, etc.). Not only did serving as a UCC crew member provide a way for me to learn more about this particular issue, it allowed me to completely immerse myself in it by working on the Escalante River Restoration Project.
Standing in the river that day, I looked past the three-inch-plus Russian olive thorns, my aching muscles and dirty face, and the mosquitoes attacking my fellow crew members and me through our clothing, and I saw my cohort and newfound friends completely engaged. All that mattered was our trust in each other and our belief that a worthy goal was being reached through ERWP. We were part of the Escalante River ecosystem, if only for a few months.”