Each year since 2007, the Canyonlands Natural History Association has awarded funds to scientists partnering with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, or U.S. Forest Service. In 2023, CNHA awarded funds to five projects through the Discovery Pool, which aims to support science that “makes up the backbone of interpretive and educational programs,” and “promotes an understanding of the intricate cultural and natural resource complexities found on federally administered lands,” according to CNHA. 

“It’s not just research for research’s sake,” said Roxanne Bierman, the executive director of CNHA. “These projects will help guide land managers in making informed decisions on how to manage local, public lands.” 

Three of the projects funded this year are in partnership with the BLM and two are in partnership with USFS. Bierman said the CNHA does try to diversify the type of science it supports, but overall, the nonprofit looks to fund science that “expresses a clear and immediate need” and is “innovative, exploratory, and unique.” 

Researchers involved in one project will investigate the causes of recent old-growth ponderosa pine mortality in Southeast Utah by analyzing tree growth decline associated with climate conditions, fire scars, and pest-related decline. The results of the project, in partnership with the BLM, will then be used to assess whether anything could be done to alleviate those stressors. 

Another project will explore how noise affects desert bighorn sheep near the Moab community, to explore how increased recreation visitation noise may impact the animals. 

The third project will track the timing and dynamics of Colorado River canyon incision—“incision” refers to erosion that creates a deep, narrow channel—through a study of river terraces at Dewey Bridge. Researchers found that river incision rates transitioned from slow to fast, and they want to find when that point in time was, and how the incision has impacted wildlife. 

In partnership with the USFS, researchers will revisit Pack Creek fire restoration plots that were planted with native seeds in 2021 to see how the plots are doing and assess differences in soil stability across the burn area. CNHA also awarded additional funding to a project funded last year: the project looks into the ecological interactions between mountain goats and American pikas in the La Sal mountains. That research is being led by Mallory Sandoval Lambert at Utah State University. 

“Mountain goats are the most understudied large mammal in America,” Lambert said during a lecture on the research last year, “which makes our research a unique and valuable insight into these rarely studied interactions.” 

The number of applicants for the grant program varies every year, Bierman said—some years, the program has received as few as four applications, other years, as many as 17. The Discovery Pool usually awards $75,000 total each year, and one of the most important aspects of the science it funds is the education component. 

“Public education is one of the primary goals of CNHA, so projects must be designed so results can be shared in a public presentation as a scientific talk or in a form suitable for website distribution,” Bierman said. “We want people to be able to use this information.” 

Moabites can stay tuned, then, to hear more from the scientists leading these projects. The application form for 2024 Discovery Pool funding is open (available at www.cnha.org/discovery-pool); Bierman said the deadline will likely be sometime this summer.