Gabriel Brown: Sageland Collaborative helps preserve Utah’s natural world

Efforts to help preserve the monarch butterfly show that defending nature is not hopeless.

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) In this Aug. 28, 2019, photo, a monarch butterfly flies to Joe Pye weed, in Freeport, Maine.

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Aldo Leopold penned these words back in 1949, decades before the Endangered Species Act or the Wilderness Act were even being entertained by Congress. We have certainly made strides as a nation to become more ecologically minded, but we still have a long way to go.

When I watch the news, I see a myriad of policies, plans and environmental crises that destroy the integrity, stability and beauty of the interconnected community we call Mother Earth. Local crises such as the drying of the Great Salt Lake, added to global issues such as the mass bleaching of coral reefs, combine to make me feel powerless in the face of what appears to be impending ecological collapse. Sure, I can use less water, ride my bike instead of driving, recycle and do a whole host of other things we are told will help “Save the planet.”

And maybe these and the other small acts of people around the globe will trickle up to make big differences in the preservation of our biotic community. But it’s hard to stay motivated when each step forward seems to be met with a landslide backward. Why should I bother recycling my Subway wrapper when the Sunday morning news reports 1,000 acres of rainforest cut down to produce palm oil that was probably used in the sandwich I just ate.

“Get Involved” is the rallying cry we hear from conservation groups and activists. But here again I struggle. I feel like Sisyphus from Greek mythology, pushing his rock up the same hill for eternity. What good does another signature or another rally do for the western monarch butterfly, whose population has declined by 99% since 1980? Why donate time and money to a nonprofit when state agencies and lawmakers support projects that prioritize economic gains over ecological health?

Some of my resistance might originate in a fear of commitment, but much of my avoidance of environmental activism stems from my hesitancy to promote the illusion of conservation. I know it’s illogical and irrational, but humans are emotional beings, and sometimes we need to see tangible proof that our efforts have meaning.

Enter Sageland Collaborative.

For years I ignored this local non-profit, formerly the Wild Utah Project, for the reasons above. I was recently introduced to the important work being done by this group and realized that my prejudices had blinded me to the legitimacy of this wonderful organization. Rather than pushing petitions and awareness, this group does tangible and measurable work.

Through volunteer efforts, they make sure that Utah state agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources have the information they need to make educated and intelligent conservation decisions for our state. And the state, contrary to my previous assumptions, actively incorporates these efforts into effective conservation efforts for native species.

The Utah Department of Wildlife Resources is often restricted by budgetary and manpower constraints and can’t always perform the data collection need to maintain species of interest in the state. A notable example of this is the aforementioned monarch butterfly.

Although the state of Utah has been worried about this species for some time, it did not have the data necessary to determine a management course of action. However, through its partnership with Sageland Collaborative, the state has been able to establish a detailed map of monarch distributions throughout Utah and is now able to plan conservation efforts accordingly.

This success story can be attributed to local community members who donated their time and energy to Sageland to achieve this conservation goal. It represents a beautiful merger of administrative government working with activist organizations and the volunteer public for the good not only of our society, but for the good of the whole biotic community of Utah.

I, like Leopold, believe that “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.” Though viewing the world through this lens is often painful and discouraging, this belief leads me to conclude that involvement with Sageland to be a very right thing indeed.

Gabriel Brown

Gabriel Brown is a third-year environmental biology undergraduate at the University of Utah. He has a passion for conserving and communicating scientific ideas through film, media, and storytelling.