320-acre Cottonwood Wash property acquired
After a 16-month effort, a 320-acre parcel of private land surrounded by Bears Ears National Monument is now permanently protected by The Wildlands Conservancy, which owns and manages the largest nonprofit nature preserve system on the West Coast.
The 320-acre Cottonwood Wash property, long under the care and stewardship of the Guymon family, holds deep significance for local communities, while also controlling access to thousands of acres of surrounding public lands inside the Bears Ears National Monument.
The Wildlands Conservancy said that permanently preserving this land will ensure that its beauty and cultural heritage remain intact for everyone to enjoy.
The protection of Cottonwood Wash provides new opportunities for communities in southeast Utah, allowing for enhanced access to public lands within the monument, ensuring continued cultural site stewardship, educational activities, and recreational opportunities like hiking and nature appreciation.
Lawrence Guymon expressed the family’s enthusiasm for The Wildlands Conservancy’s involvement, stating, “The Guymon family is thrilled that The Wildlands Conservancy is going to preserve this unique property so that current and future generations can enjoy its beauty. We thank our parents Ervin and Elizabeth Guymon for their foresight and perseverance.”
The property is not only vital for the protection of and access to the vast cultural landscape, but also because of its biological significance.
A spring-fed pond, hanging gardens, and riparian forest along Cottonwood Wash support endemic plants and a variety of resident and migratory birds.
“As soon as we stepped foot on the property and recognized its incredible importance, we were dedicated to saving it.” said Frazier Haney, executive director for the California-based conservancy,
“While it is surrounded by Bears Ears, the property was drawn out of the monument’s boundary, so acquisition by a private organization is the only real way to see it permanently protected.”
After years of collaborative efforts between tribal nations, conservation organizations, local communities, archaeologists, and other stakeholders, Bears Ears was designated a National Monument in 2016.
The designation eventually produced a co-management agreement with the Inter-Tribal Coalition—Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Zuni Pueblo—who played a leading role in advocating for the monuments protection, paving the way for more partnerships of this kind throughout the nation.
“The entire Bears Ears region is the ancestral landscape of the Zuni people,” said Anthony Sanchez, Jr., head councilman and Bears Ears commissioner for the Zuni Pueblo Tribe and representative for the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. “We are a part of this place because our songs, prayers, and stories connect us to various landmarks across the region.
“We know our ancestors resided and traveled through here because various places, plants, and rock markings in Bears Ears are embedded in our cultural memory.”
Now that the property has been acquired by The Wildlands Conservancy, a cultural conservation easement over the land will be created in favor of the five Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, extinguishing future development rights, returning the right of access for ceremony and plant gathering, and providing for co-management of the property.
“The Cottonwood Wash Property is an important part of the greater Bears Ears landscape; not only does it hold beautiful scenery, but also instills in time the cultural significance of learning and connection we have as Pueblos,” notes Sanchez.
“Protecting these connections ensures that our children can have the whole experience, echoing our continuous existence since time immemorial, thereby allowing the protection of our cultural and spiritual values.”
The cultural conservation easement, which brings together a private nonprofit and Tribal Nations to each have a real interest in the property to directly protect private land together, is the first of its kind in Utah, and one of the first partnerships of its kind in the nation, building on the many cooperative efforts already established by nonprofit organizations and tribal nations to protect the area’s public lands.
“Because of our unique model of permanent land stewardship that engages visitors and partners, our preserves benefit the public lands that often surround them,” said Dave Herrero, who will manage the preserve for the conservancy, “Over the last year, we’ve been working to cultivate relationships in the region and are humbled by the generous support from more than 200 organizations, foundations, and individuals, for not only the acquisition of the Cottonwood Wash property, but also the future stewardship of the land.”
The Town of Bluff, its residents, and the Bears Ears Partnership, were an integral part of building momentum and gathering support for the project.
Additional funding for the conservancy’s acquisition of Cottonwood Wash grew beyond the region and includes the Kisco Cares Foundation, Earthwalker Fund, Alnoba Lewis Family Foundation, David Kelby Johnson Memorial Foundation, the Conservation Alliance, and Grand Canyon Trust.
“The importance of the Cottonwood Wash property can’t be overstated. The canyon is not only stunning, it cradles hundreds of generations of human history within its walls,” said Tim Peterson, cultural landscapes director for the Grand Canyon Trust. “Given that it could have been closed off and peppered with luxury homes, we are grateful that it will be forever preserved and co-managed with the Bears Ears Tribes.”
The Center for Biological Diversity was an early supporter of the Conservancy’s purchase of the property, the second acquisition in recent years in which the two nonprofit organizations have partnered.
“We are pleased to support The Wildlands Conservancy’s bold step to expand their Preserve System into Utah and build a meaningful partnership with tribal nations to protect this extraordinary private land,” said Peter Galvin, director of programs and co-founder of the center. “We hope conservation-minded landowners and supporters join us in promoting the conservancy’s species-protective management approach throughout the West.”
The Wildlands Conservancy closed escrow on July 14,and is now focused on next steps including securing the property, providing pedestrian access, planning ecological restoration, and engaging with local partners.
More about the Cottonwood Wash acquisition is on The Wildlands Conservancy website.
Founded in 1995, The Wildlands Conservancy is dedicated to preserving the beauty and biodiversity of the earth and providing programs so that children may know the wonder and joy of nature.
In working to achieve this mission, the conservancy has established the largest nonprofit nature preserve system on the West Coast, comprising 24 preserves encompassing nearly 200,000 acres of diverse mountain, valley, desert, river, and coastal landscapes. These preserves are open to the public free of charge for passive recreation and host free outdoor education programs for underserved youth.