A soaring sandstone arch rises over the desert floor against a backdrop of low, gray clouds.
Natural Monuments As large as Delicate, which appears on Utah's state license plate, this arch is free of crowds thronging its base. © John Dreyfous / TNC
Stories in Utah

Utah's Public Lands

Join TNC on a survey of U.S. Forest Service Research Natural Areas

John Dreyfous

A map of Utah showing public and private lands projects across the state.
Utah Lands Projects Since its inception, TNC in Utah has helped establish and protect more than 100,000 acres of land now under federal and state management. © TNC

Stewarding Natural Ecosystems in Utah

Starting in the late 1980s, The Nature Conservancy’s Joel Tuhy worked to establish Research Natural Areas (RNA) with the U.S. Forest Service in Utah. These are areas that represent ecosystems in their natural state with little evidence of human intervention. The vast public lands of Utah, comprise over 70% of the state's total area and nearly 35% of the state, is managed by the Forest Service. Joel’s work established Forest Service RNAs in Utah.

This past summer, TNC dispatched John Dreyfous to revisit many of these pristine areas. John’s quest was to see how the areas Tuhy mapped out a generation earlier are faring today. Specifically, John was looking for signs of human disturbance, significant disruption to ecosystems, the presence of described habitat types and unique biological features.

John’s work took him throughout the state. Join this talented young naturalist as he surveys and explores some of Utah’s most remote and pristine landscapes.


Colorful wildflowers fill the foreground of a mountain meadow high above a wide valley lake.
View looking out over green valleys, bare rock mesas and towering mountain peaks under low heavy clouds.
Utah's Research Natural Areas Each RNA is unique and varies significantly from the next. Use the slider to compare sites in the Manti-La Sal and Uinta National Forests. © John Dreyfous / TNC

Inspiration and Resilience in Utah's Public Lands

The Nature Conservancy in Utah protects and manages over 900,000 acres of privately owned lands. However, Utah’s expansive public lands­­—making up more than 70% of the state’s total area—requires public and private sector partnership in order to achieve conservation goals. Since its inception, TNC’s Utah chapter has helped establish and protect over 100,000 acres of land now under federal and state management.

RNAs, located across all six of the state’s National Forests, serve as pristine examples of habitat undisturbed by post-colonial human influence, which can be used for education and research. These areas range from juniper, pinyon forests with anguished trees older than the United States to sedge meadows and bogs left behind by an ancient glacial moraine.

When put together, RNAs represent a pristine example of nearly every habitat type in Utah. As landscapes face development, resource extraction, grazing and human disturbance, these areas provide a baseline that can inform rehabilitation efforts and research on the state of an area prior to colonial incursion.

A wide valley stretches to the horizon where it means a towering mountain peak.
Manti-La Sal National Forest The La Sal Mountains rise high over the surrounding Colorado Plateau. © John Dreyfous / TNC

This summer, I set out as an intern for TNC to visit, assess and learn from these places. In many cases, the areas had not been visited by TNC or the Forest Service in over a decade. Anticipating the summer ahead, half of me expected the land to be riddled with human disturbance, lacking the presence of a watchful eye, while the other half imagined lands teeming with wildlife and overflowing with abundance. As my summer surveys neared their end, neither half turned out to be true.

A Closer Look

Take an immersive look at Utah's public lands.

Explore the Story Map

Each place I visited provided a window into the diverse landscapes every Utahn is lucky to call part of their home. I have spent my whole life in Utah with a memory full of nights camping and days fishing or hiking across the abundant public lands. I feel that I know this state and its land intimately, forging our connection through time outside; however, this summer showed me I have only scratched the surface.

The places that remain unseen by my eyes and unknown by my mind inspire me. They are a reminder of the bounty of life and space we often take for granted in the American West. A signal of what remains despite all we have lost. The reason why we must not lose any more.

The RNAs I visited remain relatively unchanged since their establishment, with little reason to believe the areas’ continual existence are under threat. Even so, each site was not devoid of the sign of man. Litter ranging from shotgun shells to rusted cans, old roads succeeding to native plants, a camper and his dog or the recent felling of lodgepole pine illuminated the extent of our reach as individual and specie. These disturbances illuminated our impact as humans, and equally, the resilience of the lands we inhabit.

The following short essays are reflections on time spent visiting RNAs to learn about and from them. It is a glimpse into my journey of understanding the balance between recreation and conservation. A demonstration of the need to first connect with the land in order to believe we should leave it as it was, is and hopefully will always be.

Manti-La Sal National Forest

Topographic map showing a triangular section with orange dots highlighting specific points of interest.
Manti-La Sal National Forest Barring a dramatic change, this RNA will continue to inform ways to return the land to its natural state as climate change and expansion inevitably affect our homelands. © TNC

Alongside TNC's Joel Tuhy and Manti-La Sal ranger Barb Smith, we make our way to an isolated mesa, home to ancient juniper pinyon forests. To summit the mesa, we follow an old surveying road, devoid of traffic since the 1980s. Cactus and grasses grow on top of the two-track, and stumps of trees cut decades ago scatter the road's edge.

We enter the site, which marks the beginning of my first RNA visit this summer. Nervous and unsure of what to expect, I attempt to absorb as much of the 70+ years of knowledge I have at my disposal.

We chat and walk, capturing photos of old surveying stakes or forgotten cans and learning the names of members of this desert community along the way—Pinyon pine, Utah juniper, mountain mahoganey, bitterbrush, rabbitbrush, sagebrush, serviceberry, brome, cheat and Indian rice grass.

Tall pine trees stretch across a wide valley to a line of mountains along the horizon.
Pinyon Pine Pinyon pine trees are known to influence the soil in which they grow by increasing concentrations nutrients © John Dreyfous / TNC

Pinyon pines forty feet tall create shaded trails, allowing us reprieve from July's desert sun. Steps must be intentional to avoid the grasp of opuntia fragilis's barbs.

We walk west and then north, following the RNA's border through a consistent stand of juniper and pinyon with an occasional ponderosa mingling in between.

The site begins to open up, giving way to abundant fields of grasses.

Burned ghost trees rise above tall pale grasses.
Fire Scars Ghost trees mark where a fire swept through the mesa in 2002. © John Dreyfous / TNC
× Burned ghost trees rise above tall pale grasses.
Burned ghost trees rise above tall pale grasses.
Landscape in Transition A former landscape of pinyon and juniper gives way to wildly abundant Indian rice grass. © John Dreyfous / TNC
× Burned ghost trees rise above tall pale grasses.
Fire Scars Ghost trees mark where a fire swept through the mesa in 2002. © John Dreyfous / TNC
Landscape in Transition A former landscape of pinyon and juniper gives way to wildly abundant Indian rice grass. © John Dreyfous / TNC

In 2002, a fire raged atop this mesa, burning nearly 70% of the area's trees. And while the stands of pinyon and juniper disappeared for the first time in millennia, new habitats emerged.

Wildly abundant Indian rice grass creates a sea of seeds that get cast to the wind. Young pinyons begin to grow anew, but it will be centuries—if ever—before they take control once more. The burned mesa has turned into a scene reminiscent of an African savanna. The occasional invasive mullen and cheat grass persist, but they are superbly outnumbered by native counterparts.

Native grasses become so thick in places that they cling to my ankles, nearly pulling me to the ground on numerous occasions.

The area is devoid of any recent sign of humans, aside from the occasional cow patty from wayward livestock several seasons ago.

The dramatic change this land has undergone is both inspiring and concerning. The fire induced a proliferation of native diversity; however, this area may be luckier than the next. Climate change will bring stronger, fiercer fires, and without protection and mitigation, they may rage unabated. Humans and livestock may bring invasive species that choke out native life, creating a cycle of land ever more riddled with human disturbance.

But barring a dramatic change, this RNA will continue to inform ways to return the land to its natural state as climate change and expansion inevitably affect our homelands.

Exiting the area after a long first day in the field, I feel capable but exhausted. I have learned what to expect of these RNA visits and will carry Joel and Barb's knowledge with me throughout the summer.

Quote

Change does not necessitate a negative connotation. This land has been forever marked by the hand of flame. In its aftermath is a new habitat ever rarer in the era of rangelands and fossil fuel. What we can learn from the land relies on perspective.

Thick green trees grow in a valley ringed by towering sandstone mesas.
Changing and Adapting The human record in Manti-La Sal tells a story of ever-changing adaptations to shifting climate and social conditions. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

After a short hike of stepping around prickly pear, we look down into a small box canyon, surrounded by Navajo sandstone cliffs. The rough, dark green of pinyon and juniper give way to vibrant grasses, maple and willow.

Two tall pine trees stand together in an open savanna habitat.
Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) this fire adapted tree is an important food source for numerous species. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

Even in the middle of August, the area shines bright with sign of water. A blessing from last winter's snow, and a product of this basins shallow, productive water table.

A land of giants lies below.

Three ancient sisters named ponderosa rise stories into the air. Their trunks so wide it would take four adults to link hands around them. 2,000 years old, Barb guessed.

One of the sisters was marked with proof of its age. Anasazi used the inner bark of pine in times of immense hunger. A scar revealing the bare trunk of the middle sister was left behind centuries ago to nourish those in need.

And today, the ponderosas continue to provide as a source of forage for squirrel and shelter for turkey or even bear.


 

Walking Through Manti-La Sal

The ground we walk is dry, crunching under the weight of my feet at times. And yet, riparian species grow in abundance.

Tall green grasses grow in a flat valley ringed by sandstone cliffs.
A thick clump of trees and low woody bushes.
A tall tree cast a large canopy of shade on the ground.
Tall trees ring a cluster of lacy ferns.

Equisetum, more commonly known as horsetail or snake grass, typically inhabits wet areas. However, these puzzle-like plants grew like fields of grass amongst rabbitbrush, juniper and sage. A living fossil, it is the only vascular plant to reproduce using spores instead of seed.

Water birch, box elder and narrow-leaf cottonwood create the illusion of a desert river bottom. An oasis with no water to be found. The fine red-brown bark of the birch and rutted, corduroy of the cottonwood seems out of place amidst the arid world around.

Gamble oak and Rocky Mountain maple, some forty feet tall, create a dense canopy and completely shaded understory. The crunch of fallen leaves and smell of decay permeates the cool air.

More reminiscent of New England than southern Utah. More feeling of Frost than Abbey, as we navigate these woods.

Looking up at the underside of a towering sandstone arch, set against a bright blue sky and white fluffy clouds.
Wind and Water The erosional forces of wind and water created the stunning arches that can be found in Utah's public lands. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

Bracken fern and sunflower grow alongside one another, and invasive cheat grass fills the space in between. Fields of these sunflowers prepare to pop, in what will be a symphony of yellow within a chorus of green.

As we approach the cliffs, the natural boundary of this RNA, an arch emerges. As large as Delicate, which adorns Utah's license plate, but free of the crowds that scurry along its base.

Quote

Standing beneath the opening, neck cranked towards the clouds, the arch splits the sky in two.

Graffiti is scratched into the surface of a sandstone cliff face.
Leaving a Mark Evidence of the human impulse to leave a record of our presence. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

And while we were alone on this visit, man's perennial need for recognition and dominion seeps even into this isolated area. Names and dates from boy scouts and wanderers deface the base of this divine rock.

"Discovered 6/28/10", as if it had not been visited by Anasazi and Ute, or the countless beings that came before the arrival of man in North America some 15,000 years ago.

Showy red plants stand out against a background of other green bushes.
Paintbrush (Castilleja) The showy red structures are technically bracts, a type of modified leaf, and not petals. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

Walking out of the site back towards our cars, paintbrush grew among thick willows and chokecherry. The tallest I have ever seen, reaching five feet up. The rosy flowers cast deep roots allowing them to grow and quench their thirst from the groundwater below.

The continual scape of pinyon and juniper remind me of the rarity of a site like the one we had just seen. Many of the places like this have been trampled and overgrazed or infiltrated by invasive species.

View from a rock outcrop looking out across a tree filled valley towards towering mesas with a dark line of mountain ridges lining the horizon.
Natural Monuments Research Natural Areas (RNA) represent pristine examples of nearly every habitat type in Utah. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC
An outline of a human hand on the surface of a sandstone cliff wall.
Frozen in Time The rock art found throughout Utah's public lands creates a connection through time and place. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

By protecting this land as an RNA, it will remain free of livestock and timber cutting. Forest service and state agency monitoring will help maintain the rich human history tucked away under the overhanging cliffs of red rock.

We must ensure the hand of history—biological and anthropological—remains firmly placed on the cliffs and earth of this magical land.

Visit with respect and intent. Forget the need for recognition. Come and go as if you had never been at all.


 
A sandstone cliff rises next to a two-lane road.
Ashley National Forest Petroglyph found throughout the forest suggest that the land had been hunted for centuries by native Americans before the arrival of Europeans. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

Ashley National Forest

Topographic map showing an irregularly shaped section with orange dots highlighting specific points of interest.
Ashley National Forest Within the boundaries are vast forests, lakes and mountains with elevations ranging from 6,000 to 13,500 feet. © TNC

I have not spent as much time in the Ashley National Forest as I have in its neighbor Uinta National Forest to the west. But it’s all one series of valleys and peaks, basins and ledges, streams and lakes, following the path of the sun, split in two by bureaucratic decisions, and shattered into thousands by ecological niche.

Driving north from Vernal, the high desert is breached by a creek, its banks lined with willow and cottonwood quenching their perennial thirst. Switch backs carved into the mountainside for loggers and recreators alike guide my vehicle up the rugged terrain.

I watch willow turn to aspen, aspen to pine and pine to spruce. Thickets of clear cut and replanted lodgepole pine crowd the woods along the road. The skinny trees squeeze together, creating an impenetrable thicket.

I take a right turn, and brown-red mud sloshes onto the hood and doors of my vehicle, adding to the layer of dust, sand and insects that have accumulated over the course of the summer.

It's an exciting prospect, arriving to my first site in the Uintas, driving into mountains that raised me.

Dark gray clouds hang low and heavy over a mountain ridge.
Uinta Mountains With a main crest stretching more than 60 miles and surrounded by massive secondary ridges, this range is the largest alpine area located in the Intermountain west. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC
× Dark gray clouds hang low and heavy over a mountain ridge.
A wide green meadow is lined by tall trees. White fluffy clouds float low in a bright blue sky.
Sedge Meadow Sedge (Carex) was used extensively by a variety of Indigenous communities for both ritual and practical purposes. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC
× A wide green meadow is lined by tall trees. White fluffy clouds float low in a bright blue sky.
Uinta Mountains With a main crest stretching more than 60 miles and surrounded by massive secondary ridges, this range is the largest alpine area located in the Intermountain west. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC
Sedge Meadow Sedge (Carex) was used extensively by a variety of Indigenous communities for both ritual and practical purposes. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

Following a trail until I have had enough of others’ steps, the trees widen in diameter and proximity. The walking is easy and enjoyable. Engelman spruce and Douglas fir dominate the canopy and a consistent bed of grouse berry comforts my soles between the crack of fallen branches. Depressions in the land, remnants of an ancient glacial moraine, litter this area in a series of sedge meadows, bogs and ponds.

Stepping out into the sedge meadow, my socks and boots now sodden, the ground beneath me undulates. Western chorus frogs leap in the ankle-deep water, filled with fields of cotton grass, elephant’s head louse wort and violet blue gentium.

Each step sends ripples of water beneath the surface of the ground. A bog suspends me above the liquid one to who knows how many feet deep. Walking back towards dry land, the ground concaves soaking me up to the waist. Laughing and shaking my head, the malleable land moves back into place, undisturbed by my clumsy presence.

A hand is held next to the large orange cap of a chanterelle mushroom to provide scale for its large size.
Chanterelle Mushroom Among the most popular of wild edible mushrooms, many chanterelle species emit a fruity, apricot-like aroma. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

Moving east towards the Big Pond, I tread between trees where bolete, russula, amanita and a lone chanterelle mushroom provide flashes of red and orange to the otherwise green and brown ground.

I am greeted, to my surprise, by the bark of a dog—friendly—and sight of a man camping, primitively, with a tarp and hammock hung between three trees. I eye with some suspicion. We chat and I find he is here for the same reason as I: to be amongst that which has and will exist beyond the reign of man.  

This area was protected for its pristine example of uncut Englemann spruce stands and the unique sedge meadow habitats. It is of the utmost importance this place be respected and undisturbed; however, these public lands are just as much his as they are mine and every other being that inhabits these woods and bogs.

In two days camping, he had encountered elk, moose and a bear sow with her cubs. He had withstood a pounding of rain, thunder cracking seconds after the flash.  

These moments give you reverence and respect—gratitude—to be on and from the land.

A blue tarp is tied between a group of trees to create a simple campsite in the woods.
Primitive Camping Managing public lands means finding a balance between the needs of people and nature. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC
× A blue tarp is tied between a group of trees to create a simple campsite in the woods.
Thick green grass grows along the banks of a pond.
Big Pond Bodies of water throughout Ashley National Forest offer visitors fishing opportunities. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC
× Thick green grass grows along the banks of a pond.
Primitive Camping Managing public lands means finding a balance between the needs of people and nature. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC
Big Pond Bodies of water throughout Ashley National Forest offer visitors fishing opportunities. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

And so, while his footprint and campfire’s charcoal may remain atop the knoll west of Big Pond, this place will continue unchanged.

Wet meadows have restricted cattle to the habitat’s perimeter, and wet boots will deter all but most people. So long as those who come, come lightly, the water will rise killing off trees and when it recedes new trees will grow. Chorus frogs will continue to sing their sweet trill and tiger salamanders will send gentle ripples across the Big Pond's placid water.


 
A two-lane highway curves around a bend toward distant mesas. A large lage is visible in the valley below.
Scenic Views The Highway 191 corridor provides opportunities for taking in Ashley National Forest's scenic views. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

I return to Vernal for fuel, a Coke and corn nuts, before travelling around the eastern extent of the Uintas towards the north slope.

Winding along US-191, I bisect epochs of geological history. Petrified sand dunes and limestone walls were once underwater kingdoms, home to a sea full of trilobite and ichthyosaur alike.

Peering down at Flaming Gorge from a viewpoint, an audiobook of The Monkey Wrench Gang plays from my car. “When the situation is hopeless, there's nothing to worry about.”

I remain awestruck at the enormity of both natural and human creation before my eyes. The Permian, Jurassic, Paleocene and Anthropocene encapsulated by a rock wall and river corridor drowned by development.

But, I can only remain for so long, ogling and pondering, for I have places to be. Back to the mountains.

View looking down a wide valley bordered on one side by towering red sandstone cliffs. A wide river flows through the bottom of the valley.
Flaming Gorge The red sandstone cliffs that surround this part of the Green River gives the area its name. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC
A pot of cooked spaghetti is held up in front of a winding steam that flows between grassy banks.
Dinner with a View A pot of campfire pasta provides fuel for another day of exploration. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

With the sun beginning to soften, I find a campsite along a stream near the RNA I am to visit tomorrow morning. A front of gray clouds and the low, distant gurgle of thunder darken the sky and thicken the air. I only ask that it hold off until I have finished cooking.

A light sprinkle falls for ten, fifteen minutes and begins to subside as my food finishes. I find a flat rock along the stream's edge and have a dinner of pasta with tomato sauce while brook trout feed on caddis and mayfly. Finishing my meal, I rinse the pot and fork in the water at my feet and get ready for bed.

A final burst of light breaches the grey clouds, providing pockets of blue, white and cream to the quieting sky. The sound of cattle, yellow warbler and crickets consume the last of the light.

Blue sky peeks from behind a massive storm cloud that fills the sky overing a darkening landscape.
Wild Sunset Blue sky peeks from behind a massive storm cloud as the sun sets over Ashley National Forest. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC
Looking out through the open window of a tent, the clouds overhead are painted golden by the rising sun.
Morning's Colors Light is painted across the sky at sunrise over Ashley National Forest. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

The same colors that lulled me to sleep awaken from the east. After some time watching the bulb of light flower, I crawl from my tent. A front of foreboding clouds lingers in the distance.

I have a breakfast of PB&J, disassemble camp and head down towards the sight.

Wishing to avoid a steep climb up the face of the RNA, I drive up Bull Springs Rd. along the northern extent of the site.

Deep ruts and washouts, sign of the power of machine and nature alike, begin to worsen. After approximately 0.5 miles, I pull off the deteriorating surface, trot down a small ravine and begin slogging up to the top of the site.

Exploring the Forest

Timber harvest has been prohibited in this RNA since 1983, but just beyond its borders, only stumps of Douglas fir remain.

Stumps show evidence of timber harvest activity in a forest.
A flowering vine covers the forest floor.
Pine trees grow at the edge of an open, grassy meadow.
Dead, spindly trees rise above a forested valley. Gray-green spots below mark trees that have been damaged by beetles.

Walking through cut and standing trees, two ruffed grouse flush from a snowberry bush, their wingbeats deep and rhythmic.

Along the northeast border, delicate beds of twin flower coat the steep, moist earth.

The chatter of pine siskin and curious chip of chickadee soften behind the patter of rain that has begun to fall. A green-tailed towhee emerges from a pile of deadfall, staring at me and flaring its rufous crown.

Atop the central portion of the RNA, a diverse assemblage of forbs and wildflowers create a mosaic of red, yellow, green and white. Grasses provide forage for wandering deer and elk. Their scat litters the open steppe, and their hooves cut trails that guide me up and down the slope.

Even in Augst, snow fills the shaded crevices of distant Uinta peaks.

Along the south facing slope of the RNA, beetle kill has damaged lodgepole pine and Douglas fir stands. The forests in the distance are more grey than green, illustrating the power of a single insect, scouring forward despite man's best efforts to quell its hunger.

Young green pine trees grow up in openings created by the older, dying trees around them.
Ashley National Forest New trees take advantage of a opened canopy. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

However, young trees are replacing their fallen ancestors, growing towards the light in a recently open canopy. An osprey calls to its needy fledglings nestled amidst the branches of a dead pine, and woodpecker sporadically drum in the distance. Life continues its endless cycle of growth and decay, fed by the rain currently falling on my shoulders.

A rain that reminds me, somewhat urgently, of the washed-out road I had decided to drive up some hours before. Getting out could be interesting if I wait any longer.

My relaxed walk turns brisk, and I quickly move down towards the southwest edge of the RNA.

I walk as much of the site as I can, passing by springs with sedge, a lone section of sagebrush and isolated groves of aspen. Hoping to save time and weary of the ongoing rain, I walk Hickerson Road following the RNA north.

A forest service fence on the site's northeast border distracts me.

Finding it to be well intact, I turn back towards Bull Springs. I am surprised to see a recent two track entering the RNA. Stepping down the ridge and following the new road, I find an area scarred and torn apart by a truck's tires.

A muddy track and debris on the ground marks a site where illegal timber harvest has occurred.
Ashley National Forest Despite evidence to the contrary, timber harvest has been prohibited in Ashley National Forest since 1983. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC
× A muddy track and debris on the ground marks a site where illegal timber harvest has occurred.
View looking down on a freshly cut tree stump.
Ashley National Forest A fresh stump marks the site of an unauthorized timber harvest. © Jake Dreyfous / TNC

Branches of felled trees litter the ground, and large stumps still seethe orange with life. Each ring contains a year of data, creating a timeline of meteorological history through the growth of this tree. Several pristine lodgepole pines were sawed and hauled away, despite a ban on timber harvest. A pile of fresh sawdust confirms the recency of this act.

Perhaps the assailants did not know or perhaps they did not care. Regardless, the damage remains.

I make it back to my car and find the road significantly muddier than when I arrived. As I shift into gear, my tires slip helplessly sideways towards a deep rut.

"When the situation is hopeless, there's nothing to worry about!"

Poised to get high-centered, I quickly shift into reverse, managing just enough traction to back up a few feet.

Making sure to gain momentum, I give it some gas and take a high line just right of the rut. Slamming my passenger side mirror shut on an overhanging branch, I feel my vehicle precariously close to slipping away before reaching flatter, firmer ground.

Wet and relieved, I begin the journey home.


This summer volunteering for The Nature Conservancy was one of exploration, growth and knowledge. As Utahns, we often take for granted the abundant and diverse public lands that make up the majority of our state. One could spend a lifetime without seeing even half of these places.

The time I spent on the RNAs, generally undisturbed by the age of man, reminded me of the human necessity to connect with the land we live on. To learn the names of the plants and song of the birds is a radical act of understanding and giving back to the world.

These areas, much like TNC's preserves, are usually no more than a few thousand acres. They may feel like fruitless attempts to conserve and protect in an era riddled by climate change on a global scale. However, they are signs of resilience and inspiration for what the world could be.

RNAs provide baselines for similar habitats more affected by man. As the world warms and changes, so will the RNAs. But they will provide models to manage areas in order to maintain connected, resilient systems despite pressures from climate change, development or resource extraction.

Though the climate crisis necessitates global solutions and collaboration, we must act on a local scale too. Every effort to uphold biodiverse landscapes, maintain connected systems and protect natural spaces is an effort worth making. Through time and connection, these RNAs and the public lands like them sow love for the world and a desire to protect them.

By spending more time learning from the RNAs and applying this knowledge to other lands such as TNC preserves or similar natural areas, we are taking local action with global implications. The more land that is conserved, be that private or public, the more resilient our homelands become as they inevitably change.

Quote

Utah's Research Natural Areas offer signs of resilience and inspiration for what the world could be.