CTSP Newsletter (Web Version) PAGE 9
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CTSP Grantee Stories, Successes and Struggles

The Wilderness Society Crown of the Canyons Atlas Project (CTSP 1995 Grantee)

Janice L. Thomson, Dawn A. Hartley, Greg H. Aplet, Peter Morton, Center for Landscape Analysis, Ecology and Economics Research Department (EERD), The Wilderness Society, 1424 Fourth Avenue, Ste 816, Seattle, WA 98101, jthomson@twsnw.org. web site: http://www.wilderness.org/standbylands/utah/atlas/summary.htm

(See also the Map Gallery in this issue)

On September 18, 1996, 1.7 million acres of spectacular red rock mesas and canyons in southern Utah were protected when President Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. With the Monument's designation came the daunting task of how best to manage the area.

In 1997, The Wilderness Society marshalled its economic and ecologic analytical skills, along with its expertise in geographic information systems (GIS) and mapping, to put together the only atlas of the region. Our team identified a unique ecosystem which we call the Crown of the Canyons. At its heart is a remarkable wild area that is the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. But it also includes portions of two national parks, one national recreation area, two wilderness areas and two state parks.

Our atlas is the basis for our recommendations for the ecologic and economic future, not just of the Monument, but of the ecosystem itself.

"For communities in southern Utah, the designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument represents an unprecedented opportunity to stimulate economic development and to shape economic growth in a way that protects the rich natural values that underpin the economy. The monument is part of a larger ecosystem, a region that encompasses parts of two national parks, a national recreation area, two wilderness areas, a national forest, and two state parks. The natural values of this Crown of the Canyons ecosystem can only be protected through comprehensive and coordinated planning involving federal and state management agencies and all those who live in and care about this remarkable landscape.

The wildness of the Crown of the Canyons is its greatest capital asset. Wild lands represent natural capital capable of producing a wide range of goods and services for surrounding communities. Many of these benefits lack formal markets, and therefore prices, but are nevertheless valued by society. Some of these unpriced benefits include:

The efficient conservation of biological diversity, thus reducing pressure on private landowners to protect endangered species; The scientific and management value of wild lands as a source of historical information necessary for sustaining biodiversity on developed lands; The environmental, recreational, and scenic amenity resources that attract businesses and retirees, fueling economic growth throughout the West; Enhanced quality of life for local residents; Habitat for wildlife that may be consumed either through hunting or viewing; Scenic backdrops for private lands, enhancing property values and tax revenues; and Spiritual experiences that inspire art, photography, literature, poetry and music.

In addition to these "use benefits," wild lands also generate substantial passive use benefits including option, existence and bequest values. Researchers have found that the passive use benefits of wild lands are typically greater than the use benefits. "


When most people think of the word "ecosystem," they think of a collection of interacting plants and animals. Some will remember the soil, rocks, fungi, and other components. Very few will remember the interactions of these elements with the shape of the land or the atmosphere. Remembering that all these things interact to create an ecosystem (leaving aside for the next section the important interactions with people) is aided by a conceptual model. There are a number of such models, and ecologists have been proposing and improving upon them since the advent of the field of ecology just over a century ago. One particularly useful model of ecosystem interactions was proposed by the American soil scientist, Hans Jenny, in the middle part of the 20th century.1 Jenny called his model the "state factor model" because it proposed that a limited number of environmental factors could largely explain the state of an ecosystem. Because it is so simple, the state factor model is not the most precise representation of ecosystem condition, but because it is so simple, it is quite useful.

Jenny believed that the state of five basic environmental factors - climate, organisms, relief, soil parent material, and time since the last disturbance - largely determine the condition of any ecosystem. (Jenny allowed that other usually minor factors were important in some places, so he represented his model as e = f(cl, o, r, p, t,...), which is sometimes called the "clorpt model.") By climate, Jenny meant the regime of precipitation, temperature, wind, etc., normally experienced at a site. By organisms, he meant the pool of species available to colonize a site; thus, it is not the actual occupants of the site, but the regional biota that matters. As a soil scientist, Jenny was keenly aware of the effect of topographic relief and slope position on ecosystem character, and he understood that it was soil parent material (which may be blown or washed in), not necessarily the underlying geology, that most affected the ecosystem. Finally, Jenny recognized the important role played by disturbance in shaping ecosystems, but he confined his concern to the elapsed time since disturbance. In the almost 60 years since Jenny first presented his model, the science of disturbance ecology has arisen and developed rapidly. As a result, we now appreciate that disturbances are multifaceted and should be described in terms of shape, intensity, timing, and other factors.2 Thus, Jenny's "t" is probably best thought of in terms of a multifactor "disturbance regime."

Each of these state factors has played a crucial role in shaping the landscape and history of the Crown of the Canyons ecosystem. More than anything else, the region is famous for its spectacular relief of deeply carved canyons, high plateaus, and its world-class namesake: the Grand Staircase. The harsh, arid climate of the region has taken its toll on the geology, ecology, and people of the region, but is also responsible for their special character. Parent material presents itself everywhere and has also shaped the ecosystem, from hard sandstone plateau tops and river channels to soft shale badlands. The organisms of the region have responded to the harsh environment and exhibit well-adapted ecologies, many unique to the region. Finally, disturbance history has left its mark on the ecosystem and shaped the forests of the plateaus and riparian communities of the canyons. This section takes a look at each of these factors in order to develop a better understanding of the Crown of the Canyons ecosystem and the management necessary to sustain it.



All text © by the respective organizations, November 15, 1999

Compilation & web design: Charles Convis, ESRI Conservation Program, November 15, 1999