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Native American Tribes Upholding Restoration &Education  (N.A.T.U.R.E)


We believe that the future impacts of climate change on agricultural productivity and sustaining the productivity of our agricultural lands is one of the most pressing environmental issues over the next century. Responding to these issues will require innovative solutions from diverse voices and perspectives. The Nature Conservancy believes Indigenous Peoples have been stewarding the lands and waters of North America since time immemorial and are among the most important leaders in the pursuit of lasting. Following this, the Canyonlands Research Center (CRC) is committed to supporting the next generation of tribal students to bridge the gap between the science and practice of sustainable land management on the Colorado Plateau lands by mentoring and training a small cadre of tribal students working at the interface of scientific research and public lands management.  The co-location of The Nature Conservancy’s historic Dugout Ranch and the Canyonlands Research Center and the surrounding public lands managed by the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management provides a unique opportunity for undergraduates to receive mentorship and training to work at the interface scientific research and public lands management.

Students workingStudents Posing

2021 Tribal Leaders Program -  The Inaugural Year

During the summer of 2021, the CRC worked in partnership with Utah State University (USU) Blanding TLP hosted 3 Navajo students from the USU Blanding campus during the summer. All of the students were getting their associates degrees with plans to continue onto a Bachelor's degree. Each week the students participated in instructional activities with our USU-Blanding partner which was followed by a weekly visit to the CRC to meet with special guests. Presentations covered a variety of topics such as Navajo water settlement, Indian Creek watershed restoration project, sustainable agricultural management, climate change impacts on rangelands, preserving cultural and natural resources in the Bears Ears National Monument, and traditional food systems. Students conducted independent projects which were then presented during the final week of the program on the USU-Blanding campus. A graduation ceremony was held on the final day of the program at the CRC where the students were recognized for their efforts. The students generously cooked a traditional dinner for all program participants and staff. 

The presenters and their topics were:

Mike Duniway Ph.D, USGS Research Ecologist  and Soil  Scientist. 

Dr.  Duniway  led a field  trip  to local research sites and discussed rangeland science, climate change, drought, dust research and the Criollo Cattle project with NMSU and the Jornada.

Sasha Reed Ph.D, USGS Research Ecologist. 

Dr. Reed led a field trip to educate the students about her work with biocrust and rangeland health.

Lisbeth Lauderback Ph.D Curator of Archeology Natural History Museum of Utah and Bruce Pavlik Ph.D DIrector of Conservation Red Butte Gardens.

Dr. Lauderback and Dr. Pavlik gave a presentation on their  work with the Four corners potato.

Reagan Wytsalucy M.S., USU Extension agent San Juan County.

Reagan presented her master's work on theNavajo peach and Navajo spinach.

Cynthia Wilson M.S., Utah Dinè Bikèya, Director Traditional Foods Program. 

Cynthia presented her work with local Navajo communities to reestablish traditional food systems.

Angelo Baca PhD. candidate NYU, Cultural Resources Coordinator Utah Diné Bikéya. 

Angelo presented to the students on  Bears Ears National Monument and grassroots activism.

Gavin Noyes M.A, Former ED of Utah Diné Bikéya. 

Gavin presented his work working to preserve cultural and natural resources through development of policy and collaboration with non profit and government agencies.

Rosylin Brain Ph.D, USU Sustainable Communities Extension Agent Grand County.

Dr. Brain presented on permaculture and climate change.

Wally Macfarlane Ph.D, USU Senior Research Associate Dept. of Watershed Science Research.

Dr. Macfarlane presented on riparian restoration practices and the Indian Creek Watershed Assessment and Restoration project.

Nathan Bracken Atty.  

Nathan presented his work with the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act.

Meet our 2021 Interns

ShailynShaylin Parrish, 2nd year student. Navajo is her first language and she is from a farming family. Shaylin is interested in the veterinary program at USU and will transfer to Logan when she is finished.  Shailyn is from Kayenta, AZ and is part of the Kayenta Chapter House.

BenBenjamin Toshonii, graduated summer 2021 and is enrolled at USU Logan for both creative writing and business programs this fall. Benjamin lives in Blanding, Utah. “I was drawn to this internship by the idea of learning something new. The experience opened up a whole new world of thought, and I was able to get some hands-on experience in that world.”

DanielleDanielle Tso, graduated summer 2021 and will be enrolling in the USU Nursing program in Blanding this fall. Danielle lives in Aneth, Utah and is from the Hovenweep Chapter House.“I loved how after each session at the Dugout Ranch we were asked our insights on the lesson. Our culture and teachings of traditions from our elders are still being passed from our ancestors, and I felt like we finally had a voice.”

2022 Summer Program

Instructor:                   Alix Pfennigwerth


Meeting times:           USU campus days: 9:00AM-12:00PM (~3 days/wk, Room: HSL 211)

                                    Canyonlands Research Center/CRC days: 9:00AM-5:00PM (~2 days/wk)

Office Hours:             1:00PM-3:00PM (USU campus days, Alix/Danielle, Room: HSL 211)



The N.A.T.U.R.E. Program is an immersive, 7-week summer program designed to support the next generation of Indigenous leaders from the Four Corners Region with essential skills to work in the field of natural resource management. For the next seven weeks, you’ll spend time in both the classroom and the outdoors, interacting with some of the leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous scientists working in the region.

A common theme throughout this program is restoration. As climate change and other disturbances continue to impact this region, we’re faced with the immense challenge of restoring lands, waterways, and communities to be healthy and resilient. We can best tackle this challenge by incorporating innovative solutions from diverse voices and perspectives. Indigenous Peoples, who have been stewarding the lands and waters of North America since time immemorial, are among the most important leaders in addressing these environmental issues.

Learning Objectives

This program has been designed to advance your knowledge of natural resource management and restoration as well as contribute to your overall professional development. Skills you’ll develop include:

    1. Create and sustain a learning community throughout the program
    2. Articulate and defend a position thoughtfully and respectfully in writing and speaking
    3. Collaborate with people of varying knowledge and points of view toward common goals
    4. Develop and present an independently researched project

Learning Cycle

Each week, we’ll go through a ‘learning cycle’ that should feel familiar to you by the end of the program. First, you’ll prepare for the week by reviewing articles and other materials and completing associated assignments. During the week, you’ll typically spend three days in class on the USU-Blanding campus and two days in the field at the Canyonlands Research Center.

Classroom days will include guest speakers on various topics and corresponding discussions and activities. Field days will include field trips and activities to provide you hands-on experience corresponding with that week’s classroom topics. At the end of each week, you’ll be asked to write a reflection by responding to 3-4 question prompts. These reflections are your chance to reflect on the week’s readings, in-class discussions, and field activities. Each week, you’ll also spend time developing your final project.

Assignments and Expectations

  1. Pre-work readings and assignments: Each week we will provide a list of required articles, videos, podcasts, and/or other materials to review. These materials will introduce you to the week’s topics and speakers and will serve as a launching off point for group discussions. You will turn in assignments based on these materials, which may include responses to question prompts or questions to ask upcoming presenters.
  2. Guest lectures: You will have the chance to interact with various guest speakers throughout the program via Zoom or in-person. You should be prepared to actively listen to these speakers as well as ask questions and contribute to the conversation.
  3. In-class discussions: Each week, we will synthesize lectures, readings, and other activities with group discussions. This is your opportunity to dig deeper, articulate a point, consider different perspectives, and evaluate evidence. We will follow these ground rules during discussions:
      1. Listen respectfully and without interrupting.
      2. Listen actively, with an ear to understanding others’ views.
      3. Critique ideas rather than individuals.
      4. Commit to learning, not debating.
      5. Allow everyone the chance to speak.
  4. Weekly reflections: Each week, you’ll write reflections on readings, lectures and activities from the week. The goal of these reflections is to synthesize what you’ve learned, identify topics relevant to your personal/professional interests, and connect major themes throughout the program. These will be assigned mid-week and due the following Monday by 5pm.
  5. Final project: You will develop and work on a final project on a topic of your choosing related to one of the program’s general themes. At the end of the program, you will give a 10-15 minute PowerPoint presentation on your project. 


Week 1 (6/27 - 7/1): Orientation; Indigenous & sustainable agriculture/foodways

Mon 6/27


Tues 6/28


Wed 6/29



Thurs 6/30


Fri 7/1











Campus tour, orientation, discussion on land + natural resources


Gather: Indigenous food sovereignty


10am-11am: Four Corners potato research w/ Drs. Lisbeth Louderback & Bruce Pavlik (USU/Utah Natural History Museum)


CRC orientation (AM), discussion on final projects, our careers (PM)


8am-12pm: Criollo cattle and sagebrush research w/ Josh Day & Maria Stahl (USU grad students)

Week 2 (7/4 - 7/8): Permaculture & world of plants

Mon 7/4


Tues 7/5




Wed 7/6

Thurs 7/7


Fri 7/8


Field trip









HOLIDAY (no class)


10am-12pm: Field trip to USU Moab. Permaculture & climate change w/ Roslynn McCann (USU Extension)

Location: 125 W 200 S, Moab, UT; leave Blanding by ~8:30am


World of Plants Day 1 w/ Nichole & CU-Boulder lab


World of Plants Day 2 w/ Nichole & CU-Boulder lab


AM: One-on-one meetings about final projects

Week 3 (7/11 - 7/15): Geographic information systems (GIS) & remote sensing

Mon 7/11



Tues 7/12



Wed 7/13




Thurs 7/14


Fri 7/15














Intro to GIS: vector & raster data, acquiring/manipulating data

1pm: Zoom call w/ Carl Trujillo to discuss logo


Remote sensing

1pm-1:30pm: Final project check-in w/ Alix (Zoom)


Spatial analysis

1pm-2pm: call w/ TNC media contact (Tracey Stone)


Field GPS/mapping techniques

7pm (after dinner): First Talking Circle with Ros & Bayli


Drone mapping

Week 4 (7/18 - 7/22): Animal science, drought, and soils

Mon 7/18


Tues 7/19



Wed 7/20



Thurs 7/21




Fri 7/22














Final project work day, one-page proposals due


10am-4pm: Soil identification techniques, soil health & erosion monitoring w/ Dr. Travis Nauman (NRCS)


9am-3pm: Drought research and adapting cattle to the desert w/ Dr. Mike Duniway (USGS)


9:15-10:15am: Tribal management of the National Bison Range w/ Stephanie Gillin (Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes)

1pm: Zoom call w/ Carl to review draft logo designs


9:15-10:15: Mammals and the circle of life w/ Dr. Tolani Francisco (USFS)

Week 5 (7/25 - 7/29): Healthy soils, biocrusts, and water

Mon 7/25


Tues 7/26


Wed 7/27




Thurs 7/28


Fri 7/29












11am-4pm: The magic of biocrusts w/ Dr. Sasha Reed (USGS)


8am-4pm: World of Soils w/ Nichole & CU-Boulder lab


11am-12pm: Tribal partnerships and water security in the Colorado River Basin w/ Celene Hawkins (The Nature Conservancy)

1pm-2pm: Vet School workshop w/ Michael Bishop (USU)


Final project work day


First round practice presentations on campus

Week 6 (8/1 - 8/5): Water & climate resiliency

Mon 8/1



Tues 8/2



Wed 8/3


Thurs 8/4




Fri 8/5














11am-noon: Indian Creek riparian restoration projects w/ Wally Macfarlane (USU)


11am-noon: Climate and water resiliency on the Navajo Nation w/ Nikki Cooley (NAU Institute for Tribal Enviro. Professionals)


(time?): Second Talking Circle w/ Bayli in hogan


9am-10am: Navajo peach and Navajo spinach research w/ Reagan Wytsalucy (USU Extension, in person)

Second round practice presentations at CRC


10am-12pm: Watershed restoration in action w/ Jeff Adams (TerraSophia, LLC)

Week 7 (8/8 - 8/12): Final Week! Presentations + Graduation

Mon 8/8


Tues 8/9


Wed 8/10


Thurs 8/11


Fri 8/12










Final project work day


Final project work day


Practice presentations in auditorium


Final project presentations (10am-noon in auditorium)


Graduation ceremony


Additional Contact Information

Program Director:                             Nichole Barger


USU-Blanding Faculty Director:      Gustavo Ovando-Montejo


CRC Program Manager:                   Kristen Reed


Program Coordinator:                      Danielle Tso