KEEN Effect Grantee Spotlight: Friends of Nevada Wilderness
What is Cyanobacteria and what
does it have to do with the KEEN Effect?
Throughout 2017, Friends of Nevada Wilderness (FONW) is using a KEEN Effect grant to help utilize a growing cadre of corporate volunteers – that is to say, regular local citizens supported by their employers – from Zappos, REI Las Vegas, and other Las Vegas-area corporations to renaturalize 8 miles of illegal ATV roads in the freshly designated Gold Butte National Monument.
Tourists know Nevada for its secret Army bases, mega dams, gambling hubs, and a surface of the moon-like salt flat desolation interspersed with 19th century ghost towns. Locals know Nevada to be a mountainous playground, a living museum of Native culture, and a hotbed of political tension.
But what many people do not know about Nevada is that on top of 70% of its non-vegetated, arid Great Basin foundation lies an inconspicuous biological crust called cyanobacteria. These crusts provide structure to stabilize windswept soils, reduce runoff, and become habitat for a large amount of floral and faunal biodiversity. Unfortunately, trampling over this ashy crust with hiking boots, an ATV, live munitions or a herd of cattle decimates this keystone feature of the local ecology.
Jose Witt, the FONW Southern Nevada Director, cautions:
For every inch [of cyanobacterial crust] that is impacted, it could take 300 years to recuperate. We are out here vertically mulching – as in planting dead and downed plants upright to disguise the otherwise visible roads created by illegal ATV traffic. After that, we spray the trails down with an oxidizing agent to make it look like the surrounding soil [as camouflage]. We are striving for the least intrusive way to help nature recover.
This is a land of significant value, with nearly 3,500 world famous petroglyphs across 400 rock art panels, and multiple communities vying for different ideas on how to use it. The Moapa Band of Paiutes, along with many other local conservation groups including FONW, are excited about the better opportunities a monument status provides in regards to protecting and preserving the cultural artifacts and ecological landscapes at Gold Butte.
So why is FONW choosing to use corporate volunteers to supplement the dirty work of public lands protection instead of just handing it over to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)? In short – it is a lot of bang for the buck, it helps create coalitions across sectors (private and public), and most importantly: local engagement keeps a place alive. Witt notes, “The BLM loves the work they do, but they just don’t have the capacity to steward the land like we do. It could cost them $120,000 for a crew to work these projects, and volunteers can do the same quality of work for much less.”
Although one executive pen in Washington D.C. ultimately decides the designation of new national monuments like Gold Butte, they generally do not come about without local support. Similarly, National Monuments are nationally administered, yet they are publicly owned and often locally stewarded. In the case of Gold Butte, many locals are outspoken and active in their support for the monument designation, and FONW embodies that voice. Engaging locals in stewardship projects changes local views and amplifies them. Every FONW project encourages participant voices through letter writing and other forms of grass-roots activism. Witt recounts
Picking up speed in the 21st century, many businesses are integrating various forms of environmental consciousness into their business models, be it sustainable manufacturing, political activism or local environmental stewardship – a very positive turn at a critical time. According to one comprehensive study, the act of volunteering builds a strong sense of attachment to place, and a volunteer’s civic engagement often continues long after a project is finished, which then reverberates throughout the community via social networks. In 2009 alone, 63.4 million Americans volunteered at a value of $169 billion.
Action for the Future
Friends of Nevada Wilderness deploys local corporate volunteer teams to help because they are ready to work, and it is a great opportunity to spread the values of public lands stewardship across economically important institutions in the Las Vegas area. The management plan for Gold Butte is just getting started, and FONW wants it to be grass roots-led effort with all the community buy-in they can muster.
By collaborating with a local university for an alternative spring break program, as well as helping Friends of Gold Butte (a geographically smaller, monument-focused organization) build their own stewardship program, FONW is continuing to develop community connections to this rich, crusted landscape into the future.
Jose Witt is optimistic that public support and cleaner recreation will make a difference:
“If you enjoy the outdoors – hiking camping fishing – there is a way to get involved and benefit the land you love. Write a letter, find an organization like Friends of Nevada Wilderness, and see how you can help. Trust me; they need help.
I, for the longest time, was an avid hiker and didn’t
realize that you need to write letters to protect these places.
Don’t take it for granted.
I am an environmental anthropologist, outdoor enthusiast, and KEEN employee travelling the country, connecting with KEEN fans, and advocating for humans and environments under threat. As a brand built for the outdoors, KEEN also feels a responsibility to protect and preserve the places we play. One way we do that is by supporting non-profit organizations through our KEEN Effect Grants. This new monthly blog series highlights just some of our 2016 grantees and their missions: invasive species in the backcountry, diversity in our National Parks, companies leading with environmental values, and the next generation of environmental leaders.