Regulars and Shorts

Enviro Update: August 2007

By Amy Brunvand

Environmental news from around the state and the west.
by Amy Brunvand
Utah's ecological footprint exceeds resources

A new report from the Utah Population and Environment Coalition says that in order to continue current levels of consumption, people in Utah will either need to use up nonrenewable natural resource capital or take the ecological allotment that supports people from other parts of the world. Between 1990 and 2003, the State of Utah went into "ecological overshoot" which means that people in Utah consume more renewable natural resources than the lands and waters in Utah could possibly supply.

Prior to 2003, Utahns were consuming more than the global average, but low population density meant the amount of land was adequate for the people who lived here. The report cites growth in population as the single largest contributor to ecological deficit and says that energy consumption creates the largest environmental impact.

Of course, Utah does not stand alone. In 2003, an area more than double the size of the United States was required to meet the consumption demands of U.S. citizens for that year. Worse, the report notes that there is no longer any global surplus of renewable resources: "We exceeded the biocapacity of the Earth in the late 1980s and have been in ecological overshoot ever since; that is, we use each year all of the Earth's renewable resources and pollution sinks and then draw down on its reserve of natural capital for the remainder of our needs."

To bring Utah back into ecological balance, the report says that we would either need to reduce population (which is not likely) or drastically reduce consumption levels by creating more efficient energy systems, land use patterns and transportation options.

Utah Vital Signs 2007: The Ecological Footprint of Utah

Kane County roads grab foiled by SUWA et al.

An effort by Kane County to undo restrictions on off-road motorized travel in Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument failed in U.S. District Court on June 29 after National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance asked the court to dismiss a lawsuit. Kane County brought suit claiming that the BLM is required to manage unresolved RS2477 road claims in the monument as if they were county roads until ownership issues are resolved. However, the court disagreed, ruling that Kane County is not allowed to shift the burden of deciding RS2477 claims onto BLM or shortcut the existing processes for determining their unresolved RS2477 claims. Kane and Garfield counties plan to appeal.

RS2477 is part of a repealed Civil War-era law that allowed construction of roads on federal lands in order to access mining claims. The poorly written language of the law has turned it into a loophole for off-road vehicle advocates to block wilderness designation of public lands by claiming that every existing tire track is a "road."


Mother Jones features Utah roads battle

"The outcome of the RS 2477 cases now cycling through the courts could determine the future of wilderness designation in the United States," says a feature story in the June issue of Mother Jones magazine. "If by history, culture, and predilection any one state in the West was destined to start this fight, it was Utah." The article offers an excellent overview of RS2477 and describes why Utah has become the epicenter of the public lands road controversy.

Ketcham, Christopher. "Off Road Rules." Mother Jones magazine. June 30, 2007

Utah state fish mysteriously die in Parley's Creek

Utah's state fish, the Bonneville cutthroat trout, became a little more endangered after the mysterious death of over 500 of the rare trout in Parleys Creek in June. Wildlife officials believe that high nitrate levels, possibly from fertilizer, may have killed them.

Bonneville cutthroats are descended from fish that lived in Pleistocene Lake Bonneville. Mountain Dell reservoir on Parleys Creek is the brood source for efforts to restore these native fish, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently drafted a plan to restore native fish to their historic range in southwestern Utah by removing non-native trout from 10 streams and establishing populations of Bonneville cutthroat trout and Colorado River cutthroat trout.

"Draft Environmental Assessment for Native Trout Restoration and Enhancement Projects in Southwestern Utah."

Least Chub may not survive Snake Valley dewatering

In other endangered fish news, the last remaining habitat for the Least Chub in Snake Valley on the Utah-Nevada border could be destroyed if the Southern Nevada Water Authority is allowed to pump groundwater to support runaway growth in Las Vegas. In response, the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Great Basin Chapter of Trout Unlimited filed a petition to list the chub as an endangered species.

A June 20 press release quotes Don Duff, president of the Great Basin Chapter of Trout Unlimited, former federal fisheries biologist, and a landowner in Snake Valley, saying, "Decline of the least chub is an indicator of declining water tables that will also harm farmers, ranchers and dozens of other species that depend on desert streams and springs of the Snake Valley, including the Bonneville cutthroat trout, state fish of Utah."

Utah Chapter Sierra Club:

Invasive species sets Utah aflame

Non-native cheat grass is the primary culprit behind this summer's range fires that have already burned over 300,000 acres in central Utah. Cheatgrass is an immigrant from the Mediterranean region. It spreads in areas that suffer from overgrazing and outcompetes native grasses after fires. Cheatgrass is also responsible for the decline of the Western sagebrush ecosystem, considered to be one of the most imperiled ecosystems in the U.S. A report from the U.S. Forest Service says that formerly 150 million acres of sagebrush covered over half of the American West, and now only about 10% of the "Sagebrush Ocean" remains unspoiled.

The fire hazard and habitat loss associated with cheatgrass has been a major reason why environmental groups such as the Sierra Club favor reforming, reducing, or, in some cases, eliminating public lands grazing.

Utah DWR, Cheatgrass information:

USFS Sagebrush in Western North America:

Celebrate Utah Wilderness Day, August 7, with SUWA, Greg Brown & Kate MacLeod

SUWA will host a Utah Wilderness Day Celebration featuring Greg Brown, a virtuoso singer and songwriter who has a deep affinity for wild lands, and special guest Kate MacLeod. Tuesday, August 7, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Salt Lake City's Gallivan Center. Tickets are $5 at the door or in advance on their website.

This article was originally published on July 30, 2007.