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It Begins with Conversation.

Building a Bridge of Understanding for

the Protection of Watersheds in the 4-corners region.


Spring is a time for celebrating life.

As the sun lingers in the warming air buds unfurl, moisture lingers, & green shoots push up, warily, from the dark womb of the earth into the golden light. It is a time for sowing seeds, with a full heart, in the hopes of an abundant nourishing future.


This spring, a collection of humans came together to sow the seeds of a shared vision-to live harmoniously with the land for many generations to come. Early March the Escalante Watershed Partnership put together the first-ever Grand Staircase Escalante Symposium.


What made this two-day event one for the books, was the diverse selection of speakers, topics, & perspectives ranging from members & leaders of the local tribal nations, to scientists , to conservation groups, to land owners, to government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service & BLM- all with the shared vision to protect & conserve the precious & fleeting natural resources of the lands they inhabit.


This symposium was a reminder that if you dig down to the roots of what is wanted & needed in order for a community to flourish, we are ultimately rooted in the same soil. Even though there may appear to be significant disparities in perspectives, if we are able to step back and listen, we may be able to weave these differences into a new way forward.

The symposium began with indigenous perspectives on the land.


What was held within the heart of the array of tribal perspectives shared? Water. There was no doubt within any of these speakers that water is the giver of life. Each tribal member shared a glimpse into their rich cultural history & spoke to the ways in which they were taught to honor the sacred substance of life.


It seems as though it is an inherent knowing within in these different cultures that water isn’t something that can be owned, for it belongs to all of life. A knowing that if anyone does try to grasp, with slippery fingers, onto the ideas of owning water it will be (& is) to the disparity of all.


Yet, when the settlers came, they did just that. The very substance necessary for the existence of life was turned into a commodity, a thing to be bought, sold, & used as if there were no tomorrow. A decision that was, undoubtedly, a fortuitous step towards the anthropogenic changing of the Earths climate.



The symposium continued with various ecosystem management strategies & the challenges that come with them. Challenges woven together by the threads of past (& current) acts of mismanagement, political & social agendas, & the lack of necessary funding. A glimpse into the intricate worlds of hydrology, biodiversity, & eco-system functionality in suite with the status & concerns of disappearing water resources further highlighted the complexities & challenges of making adequate decisions on managing lands that have already been severely altered since the arrival of the Europeans.


Some made cases for leaving the land alone in order to allow it to heal in peace while others felt that humans have already changed the face of the continent so thoroughly that it is necessary for us to take an active part in the healing all of which led to the last segment of the symposium, “Where do we go from here?”.


There was a recognition by all in attendance that these issues are incredibly complex & require a nexus of ideas in order to even begin to imagine a path through the uncertain future that is unfurled before us. Although many of these groups & agencies had opposing views in the past, & likely still do, there is a consensus that we are in a predicament & the ways in which our resources have been management for the past few hundred years simply doesn’t work.


All in attendance acknowledged that we need science-based management & an awareness that the original peoples of the land, when able, did & do have healthy ways of managing & coexisting with the intricate ecosystems they live within, strategies which align with what science is just now able to reveal, & some of which have been adopted by government agencies such as the Forest Service.


It is clear that there is a necessity for meaningful engagement &, co-management with the indigenous communities who have stewarded these lands & watersheds for generations.


For those wondering what they can do, consider volunteering with conservation groups, actively participating in your community, going to board meetings, sending in your comments for proposed management or resource projects in the places you love. The need for data is vital, so of course there was the invitation to become a citizen scientist, to research what this may look like in the bioregions you find yourself within.


Although this symposium was only a handful of seeds scattered onto thirsty fissured soil, perhaps they will be scattered on the wind & more conversations around watersheds stewardship will begin to take root. Let us hope that through this rooting they will aid in the creation of rich, life supporting soil from which a blossoming future may arise.


A future in which humanity will remember how to live, once again, with the natural systems of the Earth of which we are irrevocably tied to. Let us remember that varying perspectives are necessary for such complex and diverse issues &, rather than isolating ourselves into the spheres of those we know will agree with us, let us start to build bridges of understanding. It begins with a conversation.



You can find a replay of this two-day event at the Escalante River Watershed Paternships website: escalanteriverwatershedpartnership.org .



Blog & Photograph by: Kaya McAlister, Assistant Ambassador of Water is Life.

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