Enviro Update: June 2007
Environmental news from around the state and the west.
by Amy Brunvand
"Outstandingly remarkable" Utah rivers: Forest Service seeks input
Which, if any, of the eligible river segments in Utah national forests should be recommended to the U.S. Congress for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic River System? The U.S. Forest Service currently seeks public comments and suggestions to answer this question and prepare a draft environmental impact statement for rivers that flow through the Ashley, Dixie, Fishlake, Manti-LaSal, Uinta and Wasach-Cache national forests. Eligible segments (listed on the project website), must be free-flowing and have at least one "outstandingly remarkable value." Inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic River System means that these river segments and surrounding environments would be managed to preserve the character of the river.
Information and map of eligible river segments: www.fs.fed.us/r4/rivers/ Comments due by June 30, 2007 to firstname.lastname@example.org
Little Hole saved from resort development
It took $1.625 million to save Little Hole on the Green River near Flaming Gorge from commercial development, but in the end the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources won the bid and saved 336 acres for wildlife, anglers and all Utah's present and future citizens. The Little Hole property was put up for auction by the Utah State Institutional Trust Lands Administration after a resort developer expressed interest in buying it, even though the area is a world-famous trout stream and one of the "outstandingly remarkable" river segments under consideration in the U.S. Forest Service Wild and Scenic Rivers suitability study. Money for the purchase came from the Utah Reclamation and Mitigation Commission, and from Questar Exploration and Production Company after the Utah Nature Conservancy helped negotiate a deal.
The threat of losing a public treasure like Little Hole has demonstrated a compelling need for better public accountability and government oversight regarding the way SITLA manages 3.5 million acres of Utah real estate. The land in question was donated by the Federal government in 1896 to generate revenue for public schools, and the SITLA mission statement specifically says that "beneficiaries do not include other governmental institutions or agencies, the public at large, or the general welfare of the state." As a result, SITLA refused to consider selling the Little Hole property directly to DWR, insisting that maximum short-term profits overrode any public interest in preserving the outstanding natural and recreational area (in fact, SITLA employees get cash bonuses for land sales, so they have a strong motivation to put profit over public good). Although SITLA money does help Utah school children, Utah's natural heritage is certainly equally valuable (and potentially more precious) to kids as classroom learning. Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. and the Utah Legislature could choose to avoid the sorry situation of a state agency battling against the interest of Utah citizens by changing the mandate of SITLA so that sensitive lands can be sold for conservation, not development.
DWR news release: wildlife.utah.gov/news/07-05/little_hole.php
Utah Moms for Clean Air
In 2006, the Wasatch Front had 16 "no drive" days when air pollution levels made it unsafe for children to play outdoors. Since air pollution is linked to asthma, low birth weight, childhood cancer and environmental mercury (which may cause autism), a newly formed activist group called Utah Moms for Clean Air asks Utah citizens to eliminate at least one car trip per day in order to help keep air safe for children to breathe. More information and calls to action are on their website.
Sierra Club reports on Utah Legislative session
Big green tree-hugging kudos to Utah Representatives Ralph Becker, Christine Johnson, David Litvack and Roz McGee and State Senator Scott McCoy-the only five members of the Utah legislature to achieve a 100% pro-environment voting record on the Utah Sierra Club 2007 Utah Legislature Environmental Scorecard. Find out how your Utah legislators voted on key environmental issues.
Museum to build on foothills site
The Utah Museum of Natural History has finalized plans to build a new museum facility in the foothills east of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail near Research Park with a large parking lot replacing the gambel oak stand just west of the trail. The plan will result in significant changes to a popular, easy-access natural area which is heavily used for outdoor recreation. An estimated 59% of gambel low oak, 23% of tall oak and 58% of sagebrush on the 17-acre site will be lost. However, the plan does contain some environmental accommodations. Scheduled shuttles will make the facility accessible from TRAX, and sidewalks will be built for pedestrian access. Parking may be shared with Red Butte Garden to reduce the size of the paved area. An attempt will be made to preserve tall oak communities; the Utah Native Plant Society will relocate species such as sego lily and Viola beckwithii. The Red Butte Garden fence may be realigned to accommodate deer migration.
The decision to build on the site was partly based on an assumption that if the museum didn't build there someone else would (with even less environmental sensitivity). The Record of Decision for the project contains an overdue recommendation that the University of Utah begin a cooperative long-range foothills planning process geared towards preservation of remaining open space, native vegetation, wildlife habitat and recreation.
Utah Museum of Natural History Final EIS and Record of Decision: www.umnh.utah.edu/