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Improving public lands does not require heavy machinery

The Salt Lake Tribune on September 19 included a commentary from Redge Johnson, director of the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, in which he wrote about the ecological challenges facing our public lands in Utah. As a member of the Conservation Corps, I belong to a community of young people across America who face these challenges and care about our changing public lands.

In 2019, I worked with the Southwest Conservation Corps as a first generation Indigenous student to fund my college degree in maintaining the integrity of our Four Corners wilderness. Throughout the summer I hiked with a team of six young adults through the wilderness of the southwest. We spent our time working on the trails, picking up litter and cleaning up forest areas that were dangerous to people or were overrun with invasive species.

Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office argues that the use of highly mechanized management techniques is the right way to deal with struggling natural landscapes. Yet, we have accomplished our work using practical, non-invasive management techniques.

During that year, the Southwestern Conservation Corps team maintained 22 miles of trails in national parks and improved over 650 acres of land in one summer. We have improved trail systems and protected infrastructure from erosion by actively choosing not to involve unnecessary heavy machinery. Instead of investing in violent land management techniques such as chaining, SCC has invested in the employment of youth, young adults and local veterans to help strengthen forest health.

Conservation Legacy, the organization that sponsors my regional conservation corps, oversees nine Conservation Corps programs across the country. It’s a model that the Utah Public Land Policy Coordination Office should take note of.

Thousands of young people like me are immersed in great learning environments that apply to our academic and professional goals. We provide self-reliance practices in local forests and help our economy by working with farms, national forests and other conservation organizations. Our approach is centered on the need to create a lasting impact for outdoor enthusiasts, land managers and wildlife in order to enjoy the natural world.

Not everything the wild public lands give us can be taken for granted. For decades, our ecosystems have been subjected to the desecration of native biodiversity and the rapid spread of invasive species. While the health of plants and animals in our region is at stake, public lands have also been sacrificed for industrialized activities, including mining and extraction of fossil fuels.

Now, for the excess methane and carbon dioxide expelled into our airsheds as a result of mining on public lands, the entire Southwestern United States shares the symptoms of the climate crisis: drought, fires of forest, reduction of the snowpack, erosion and diseases of forests. Today’s young adults and future generations face the monumental task of sustaining what remains of our natural earth. To keep it well, management techniques involving heavy machinery are a thing of the past.

Utah’s Public Land Policy Office can solve ecosystem well-being issues with minimally invasive techniques, such as those used by Conservation Legacy on public lands. These methods do not include the large-scale application of bulldozers, anchor chains, or other heavy machinery that relies on fossil fuels, exacerbates soil erosion and harms wildlife as they ostensibly work to improve soil conditions. public land ecosystems.

As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.” Any form of land management that empowers the next generation of land stewards to serve their communities, preserve public lands, and value the ancestral integrity of the land is a step in the right direction.

Laci D. Begaye managed the Four Corners wilderness as a Southwest Conservation Corps crew member. She is a first generation student with distinction at Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado.

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion