Episode 49: Allison Jones on the Science Behind Protecting Utahs Wildlands
music you're listening to the wilding. Earth podcast community The rewarding Earth podcast Supported by businesses such as Patagonia Tula and bio habitats as well as the Weeden Foundation and listeners. Like you if you love the work that the rewarding institute is doing please consider donating at rewinding dot? Org and be sure to sign up for our weekly newsletter while. You're there allison. Jones received or be a an environmental studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz under the guidance of her mentor. An adviser Michael soulet. She then completed her. Ms In conservation biology at the University of Nevada Reno in Nineteen ninety-six her master's study analyzed the effects of cattle grazing on small mammal communities in the great basin in two thousand fourteen alison ascended to Executive Director of Wild Utah Project until she moved on from the Organization in January of Twenty Twenty Allison currently serves as principal of L. Jones. Llc where she specializes in large landscape scale conservation analysis and analysis of state and Federal Wildlife and habitat management plans and revisions. She currently works on a contract basis to university researchers independent scientists government agencies conservation NGOs. I started today by asking Alison to get. Us caught up on all the wild Utah Project. Projects you project has a lot of really cool studies and projects going on Maybe the one that leaps mine vital away is I watch Wildlife Watch We currently are in about to launch the third year of this study which takes place in the central wasatch mountains covering about seven canyons mostly on the front side of the Wasatch Range. Salt Lake City. And it's a trail cameras study and we have You know hundred and something trail cameras I think it's one hundred twenty this year or something like that and we have a volunteers one for each camera who are haunting those cameras and pointing in there assigned spots to gather as much information as we can on the medium to large mammals the articulate and all all mammals predators That are moving through the wasatch range and each camera is moved twice during the summer. So there's three locations reach cameras. You can do the math. It's just a lot of cameras. Taking a lot of motion triggered photos over the field season. Which runs from you know. May Or June depending on win the folks can get to their assigned sites To the mid to late August and we have millions of images that are being processed and sorted and this is feeding into actually a PhD. Our study for Austin Green at the University of Utah Conservation and Ecology lab and Basically with the studies aiming to do is to get the data that the the planners and land managers and lead managers needed yesterday in terms of the inaction fees species with wilder interface. Where they're moving that pinch. Planes Import Movement corridors a little bit relative abundances and importantly which features of the human landscape are affecting the distribution of abundance of these animals for example. What is it about closer to the while have been interface? When species ex wires the is not detected by our cameras. Is that human Shin is it. The trails is roads as it buildings or buildings etc all. These layers are laid over the Occupancy model basically that Austin Green is reading and all the state at the land managers the four service division of Wildlife Resources the Cottonwood Canyon transportation. Eis Process all this data and analyses resulting understate a are being spinal to these Folks makers planners N. agency people To make important decisions about human development and importantly protection of Habitat. Can you talk about anything that like an example? That's come of this data that if it hadn't existed things might have gone the other way in terms of development decisions or anything else while we're we're not quite there yet because the study is not quite done The the initial analyses are being passed on you know to the the planners extent need the data and it will be used to And I mentioned the Little Cottonwood Canyon. travel plan environmental impact statement. This is a really hot issue in the Central Law. Set Right now How are they going to address the the fact that we're leading these canyons to death? You know here the Los all the that gration. That's up there to ski areas that there. There's talk of linking Ski Areas. You know over to other canyons. Parking issues traffic issues What are the the solutions that will be put into place? Will it be you know? Tunnels will it be widening? Rose Gondolas With things be closed things like that so and stay tuned. That data will be super important in the next year for for this particular decision process in particular as I've talked to more people that are doing this kind of work. Y'All kind of hang out in the same places. How is this really having a direct effect on policy in general plenty of examples throughout the the West where the agencies are really I mean the land and Wildlife State and federal unmanaged tease. They're they're really getting into this Advanced technology right and using it to make better decisions for that land and Habitat for wildlife. And so the demotion sugar trail cameras That's just one example Drones are coming into fashion. That's an amazing tool to gather so much data than more than we could have done on the ground in the past for example And the the the trackers that they're putting on on animals tiny little you know pit tags on around the lakes of of birds only way few grams and things like that and I think there's plenty of examples where you know. Some agencies are bracing This technology to to make better decisions on the ground And I think it also depends kind of which species and which issues your talking about I think that there's certain species and habitats that are Easy easier for the agencies to make kind of the the right Planning or management or conservation decision on Things like Instead the end You know beavers fish and their habitat when it comes to data. That might be showing that you know. Wolves are moving to a certain area and need you know really important protections to let them travel. Then that's where the you know. The policy might come more into play. You know when you guys come in with this level of data and irrefutable photographic evidence and tracker data drones stuff and everything else. It just makes it a lot harder than For people on the agency side you might politically not wanna do or make a decision in a certain direction in the direction of wildlife in protecting that or restoration I mean it just makes it really really hard for them doesn't it Oh I totally agree. Yeah especially with again. Some of those super rare and controversial species if a trail camera picks up the wolf. Wolfer links where. They assume they don't live anymore. You know they as into you have to kind of sit up and take notice Especially at the federally protected species under the Endangered Species Act. You know you can't refute A positive I d from a trail camera right but while project has a long history of of pudding Citizens Citizen Scientist to work on on many of our projects and it just enables us to collect you know ten twenty fifty times more data than we would able to do just with our you know staff and a technician or to an intern or two. It's remarkable they lost. That's why lifelock trail camera study would absolutely not be possible without our. You know roughly one hundred volunteers more actually working on that project. What's it like to organize an operation like that or a set? Or I'M I imagine while Utah's got a whole bunch of overlapping and different things going on. What give us a sense? I would liked to organize all of that. It can get a little crazy We have Six separate Projects Right now at while you project that Us Citizen Science Volunteers and so basically we you know. Divide and conquer well. I was On staff that while Utah Project which was up until just This past January Whether I was be conservation biologist or in my last six years the director I was in charge of a couple of this is in science projects as well We also have to Conservation Biologists Ecologists on Staff. So we we. We did it. So everyone's in charge of you know basically to or three projects Our summer interns can be helpful in helping to manage our Communication directors the one. That's in charge of communications with all these volunteers. So we're kind of a Well oiled machine but you've you've got to be on top of your game. I mean we had probably you know I wanNA say between two hundred and fifty three hundred volunteers last year and when they shape or form working or something. Yeah it was pretty crazy so in terms of like big plans. What does all this? What does all this play into on a on a on a three thousand foot view of Wild Utah Project in terms of like restoration? Wilding Plans that you have proactively not to just I know you guys. Don't just sit in fight everything although we need groups and people to do that to to stay alert to things that are Needing to be dealt with immediately. But how does all of this feed into a bigger larger plan for you know half Utah kind of like the half Earth Movement? Yeah in a in a couple of ways and I think when example. I'd like to really touch on is Well do you try. Projects a stream and repair and restoration program Basically you know. We've we've done kind of the widely network designs for Utah and For the heart of the West Region is the northeast corner of the state and so the Colorado Plateau. And so we've you know we've identified the core areas but when it comes to the linkages or corridors core areas the repair Ian linkages are one of the most critical. And here's some low hanging fruit in our state and throughout the West Because so many about repairing corridors. You are degraded as you know for lots of reasons. One of the you know best Restoration tools at our disposal is Bieber REINTRODUCTION OR RICO colonization. You can foster or encourage natural recolonisation beaver to help repair the degraded streams and base water table. But also the use of the human made Beaver dams the beaver Dam analogs. And so while you type project is in year. Four or five of A statewide effort to work with many Partners and fellow scientists and states Wildlife and land management agencies to Tackle in any of our watersheds and streams within those watersheds better again. The low hanging fruit That we know are degraded and that we can bring the resources together to identify. You know where we need to use. What tools you know where it makes sense to try to encourage beaver recovery. We've got the A top notch Science CAME UP AT UTAH. State University led by Joe Wheaton and his Beaver recovery assessment tool. It's a it's a really cool. A modeling exercise they did that shows all the cranial saints in Utah and basically which ones need bieber recovery the the most based on their condition and then while Utah Project will come in and do the pre restoration. You know whether we're talking about actual beavers or the beaver Dam analogs. We'll do the pre restoration Stream in my opinion Punctual assessment using that that that stream that Carrion assessment protocol. We'll get the baseline data then the restoration effort. For example. You know the iridium analogues will come in and while the project will bring the citizen science volunteers to build those With our various partners Division of Wildlife Resources was a big partner for us. I'm doing these Bda's and then we'll wait you know a couple of few years to see How the restoration action is doing in terms of recovering. Shame and repairing area. And then we'll come in again with the IRS or a protocol again with our volunteers. You've been trained in the protocol. We'll get the post restoration data so proof of concept to show that Whether it's the bill thing beavers or these analogues That it's working and this is just a great Program the Great Bang for your buck in terms of restoration energy and dollars and we had a lot of work to do in Utah. That we're really excited. That you guys on board and the Beaver Band bandwagon the BDA fan lagging. And it's it's really exciting. You're listening to the rewinding podcast. Did you know we also publish insightful? And inspirational content from leading scholars poets artists and organizers. From around the world you can visit rewinding dot org and sign up for our weekly digest received. Brilliant fresh insights on everything rewinding you'll find over a decade of articles news from the front lines of lands protection and all kinds of restoration efforts check us out at rewarding dot org and don't forget to share it with friends for the lay people and this was the first question I ever had when I saw human-made beaver dam and I hang out with conservation biologists so. I don't feel embarrassed to ask this. When do you decide to use a human beaver over a beaver beaver not all ranchers gators county? Commissioners you know people down in Garfield County for example. They've not all come. To be beaver. Lovers and so while the division of Wildlife Resources I think would love to follow Joe Biden's Brat model and just plunked beavers down wherever Meetings muddle shows read like really degrade at a needing beavers. You know they have to kind of water jets and just make sure that people up and downstream and you know you're you're gators some farmers and ranchers. The local community are cool with that. And not always the case. And when you can kind of get feed the same Fact you know and the restorative values and functions with the fake beaver dam. You just go ahead and do those. They'RE CHEAP. They're fun to build you bring in the volunteers and the neat thing is if there happens to be beaver anywhere in that watershed upstream right down. They'll eventually you know. Find Your beaver dam analog and maybe settle in. Maybe fix them Redo them. They'll probably thinking what were we're thinking. Do the right. And they'll maintain them and hopefully by the time the beaver find them and and and move in by that time that the community and the the ranchers of the reservoir owners and realize the good effects that these these structures are having on the the watershed and that They're not quote unquote stealing water. Some downstream users. You can basically see with your own. Is that the water trickling and more or less equals the water trickling out. I can see the effects of that heightened that raised water table creating more lash in aggressive and Forbes for grazing cows for example. The Green Belt extends you know wider Away from the stream channel because the raised water table and the water's delivered downstream to the reservoirs. Bonker big BEAVER. Dan's upon that we create hold water. All these great benefits. Hopefully by the time you know the beavers move and start maintaining them then. Everyone's cool with that because they want to get to the point where everyone once these puns. And it's not just one or two. Do you really Kinda need to sew up that that creek 'cause so to speak Hopefully I've wanted those hunts kit to stick around. You know what I'm saying. It's kind of hilarious and somewhat with a dash of sadness that they're cool with you building dams and not worried about US stealing water but they think beaver somehow have these little. I mean I just can't imagine what goes on in people said sometimes but whatever it takes and it seems to be working here yeah here in Utah. Its little baby steps. You know a lot of baby steps and just Kinda you know working with the different partners and players as you can sometimes just sort of like keeping your head down like. Hey we're doing. We're doing good things for the land and Wildlife Year like keep your head down and keep doing it. Well what are you so you're a perfect person to ask because you've had enough time on the ground in a particular area to probably answer this really well. Which is you talk about baby steps. Is it going to have a has? It had an affect on people that you've known for a long time landowners that you've known for a long time or known of is it. Does it have accumulated effect? I think so again in mostly being from like the agency standpoint you know the division of Wildlife Resources. Well then two years ago didn't even have. Yeah they didn't have it beaver. Conservation and Management Plan and. Now they they do That you I think there's a pretty good shot you know our fourth grade curricula is good and and you know college environment field trips and you know looking at things holistically and I can only hope you know that the tide sort of turning a little bit on not only the Bieber issue but Others climate change believe it or not is still a matter debate here especially with our oddly legislature. You know the value of public lands and and open space in our state of Utah. That's not always celebrated as it should be but you know that type turning as well because our you know a billion dollar recreation economy in the West Utah just smack in the middle of that and and people are starting to wake up to the fact that we thought to not nibble away at or you know Selloff or give to the states or any crazy idea like that. We need to continue to preserve and carefully. Now that you know these public where Because they're so critical to Utah's tourism and recreation at Hanalani. And if we can do that you know the conservation groups and the Institute and Wireless Network of the the conservation organizations thinking really big. Can you know be like yes and you know? We've have to connect to again kind of baby steps. Keep your head down well in so many ways. I've always viewed Utah one of the The frontlines on public lands fights in so many ways. And it's always in the center of something and One of the things that you don't get to see on social media updates or newspaper. Headlines is the feedback from people like you who worked so hard and have for so many years the reaction to Land you were so diplomatic there but lands just being completely ripped freshly put into protection and then ripped right back out of our hands or wildlife's hands really. I mean you could. You could have little harder on that if you wanted to but I will and and yeah go bowling that big huge amount of money that span the outdoor recreation is no joke in Utah. I mean I don't know if you've ever seen a comparison study of other states but you have to be in the in the top five or tin In Western states money. That you guys that that your wild places drawl so But but from the headlines and everything it looked like A. You're just another helpless state in Federal Policy just switching idea on bureau of Land Management Land. And all that their ideologies just completely different from anything. That's ever come before it. And what does a strong like yours feel like when you live there? What was the backlash like? Or what is it ever like when people really make big threats toward big chunks of your public lands there? Oh yeah and I and I think that the the groups that are suing to reenact The original boundaries if the grand staircase and there's ears national monuments of US ally of sent you touch after the Sierra Club etc. I think they're they're confident that the law is on their side that that what was done was illegal and it might need to You know wait. For a hopeful new administration Will come in next year with with any luck and so it seems to me again. I'm not on the sideline of about fight nor while Utah Project but it seems to me that the environmental attorney is overseeing. That are are pretty confident. So they're just letting that work its way through and they're working on the other Or immediate you know brushfires southern Utah Alliance. Is You know activated and deployed to Fight for every unit as the The Red Rock wilderness proposal. That's in Congress. And when you know you oil and gas drilling just going to eat away at the boundaries of one of those units is there. You know fighting that so I think the really big picture things like you're you're talking about are with those two Monuments that's sort of being just it's going. It's churning through the legal process Other group serve working on. You know some other really big issues regarding B. O. Those states conservation plans. That have been just a you know a Ping Pong Ball. That's at the national level across range of the saints grouse. That's been a real mess you know. Vm grazing management marriage Yeah there's there's so many big issues that our partner organizations are are working now right now and it's certainly not not just Utah. Wanting thing I always worry about is scientists mental health in a time when when you guys aren't appreciated like you've ever been in the past and that's going to go away. We'll have another administration hopefully We'll go back to listening to scientists again but on a big level on the big picture. It just feels like everybody's gotten thrown under the bus if you have any kind of degree or experience or formerly where the person to ask about conservation issues now. you're being passed up for a politician or somebody stakeholder with an obvious beef against conservation and everything. How has that been for for you? Guys in terms of is it that way on the ground is it that bad on the ground or are there people in agencies that are just kind of keeping their heads down agreeing with you but trying to keep their jobs too and I very much I can't really speak from the perspective of the the Career Professional Biologists and Ecologists. Right now and I feel for them. They are in a tough spot. But you Kinda hit the nail on the head here in Utah with some of these. I mean there are some great scientists and biologists in these Federal agencies and they. It does feel like they're kind of you know keeping their head down and the reaching out actually More than before to groups like while you type project Who can you know? Bring Resources We can bring an army of scientists. These agencies are having their budgets slashed. You know the US Fish and Wildlife Service field office when someone Quits or leave. There's there's never money to rehire. Everyone's doing two or three people's Jobs. It's it's it's awful and so we are. I'm finding that these you know career professionals here in Utah are reaching out for collaborative partnerships more than before and everyone's GonNa keep in their down So it's it's a really tough time for those agency scientists right now. I really do feel for them. That's interesting I wonder if something will happen in the future that will be able to get a little bit of space in perspective looking back at this and find that they pushed people who were formerly more staunchly conservative in the agency wanted to protect their jobs and everything into the arms of the conservation movement. I hope that helps so. But in the meantime the you know the frontline defense environmental groups. Then you know suing these and she's right and left estate. When the agency abandons down policy breaks the law or further and regulations out the window you know unfortunately have been seeing all of that so yeah I mean groups like us that are left in the middle you know. I are looking for opportunities for partnering despite All that so what's next for you. Well finished a few months and I'm I'm still involved wild you project they're calling the Embarrassed extraordinaire So I'm on the website and you can still reach me. I Utah Project DOT ORG email. there's fear for Manuscripts publications from various projects. I'm rapping Athens. Submitting right now We have a big long term Study at the At the Kennecott copper mine. Actually that's looking at the long-term interaction between these Sagebrush treatments and the return of livestock grazing on still kind of hunting. That project battle at the twenty year project will be allowed publications. Last month I spent two or three weeks intensely up at our legislature I fighting and then working To fix a pretty bad wildlife bill Bill was going to basically call on the division of Wildlife. To to just put bluntly kill a lot. More predators in the deer hunting units that are below objective so We we worked with Scientists that US you and kind of our college and specific legislators to soften some language and their to bring it more in line with what the division wildlife already does regards to managing petters so we. We didn't totally castrate or this. The bill but We definitely went a long way towards that so we are basically proclaiming you know sort of small victory on that and legislature. It's it's often about kind of damage control and it's again that's unfortunate that our legislature Takes it upon itself to Tell Division of wildlife resources staff by very capable biologists How do their job and they don't do a good job telling our Why the other three that job in my opinion. So that's something I wouldn't have been able to really jump in with both feet on it while Utah Project. We really you know. Get involved then The hill like that that that now I can well. I can't wait to see what other adventures you get into as you transition into this newfound freedom and ability to move and play in places that you weren't before and also including rewelded leadership council so I can't wait to what we all do together and I wanNA thank you streaming being on the show today. I know you're super busy. So thank you so much for being on rewarding earth and thank you jack. It's my pleasure. Let's do it again. One day thanks for listening to the Earth podcast. We do what we do because of this. Podcast is supported by listeners. Like you long to live in a wilder world please consider donating at rewinding dot org and subscribe to our weekly News Article Digest while you're there to go the extra mile you can follow and share rewarding on Instagram facebook and twitter. Bonus points for sharing this podcast with your friends to listen to past up go to dot org slash pod that's rewarding dot org slash P O d.