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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Nonprofits Turn To Public For Photo Monitoring Project In Grand Staircase Escalante

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is a remote area of Utah that is constantly changing. Thanks to photos from researchers, nonprofits like Grand Staircase Escalante Partners can track those changes and now they’re asking the public for help.

Looking at a recent Instagram post from the group, conservation programs manager Jonathan Paklaian describes the three photos of the Escalante River — from 1991 to 2014.

Young cottonwood trees and open sandbars can be seen in the 1991 photo. In 2010, the cottonwood trees have grown, but the sage green shrubs are invasive Russian olive trees. By 2014, the cottonwood trees continue to grow and the invasive plants are mostly gone because of nonprofit work to restore the watershed.

“It’s a historical record and it’s data,” Paklaian said. “It shows us things that we may not have information on except for these photos. And so that’s a good place to start in understanding our system.”

The photos in the post were collected by Bill Wolverton, who he said is with the National Park Service. Researchers like him have been collecting this kind of visual data for years.

But now it’s getting a reboot to get more community members involved. This “basic” data collection can help nonprofits and government agencies — with dwindling resources — know what’s going on across the rugged landscape.

“Public lands have faced threats over the decades and so this could be a way of just collecting more information that will help inform good policy decisions,” Paklaian said.

To get started, no rigorous training is required. Paklaian said all that’s needed is a GPS, compass, camera and notebook.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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