Environews, Regulars and Shorts


By Amy Brunvand

Environmental news around the state and the West.
by Amy Brunvand

Utah hunter mistakes wolf for coyote (feds do nothing)

In December a Utah hunter shot and killed the female gray wolf named “Echo” that was recently seen near Grand Canyon National Park. Although Echo was wearing a radio-tracking collar, the hunter claimed that he mistook her for a coyote (coyotes may be shot on sight in Utah for a $50 bounty thanks to the cynically named “Mule Deer Protection Act”). When a hunter shoots the wrong animal you’d think there would be some kind of consequence, but under the so-called “McKittrick Policy” (which is named after a Montana hunter who claimed he shot a wolf because he thought it was a dog) the U.S. Dept. of Justice won’t charge anyone for illegally killing endangered species unless the government can prove that the defendant knew what the animal was at the time he killed it. Wild Earth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance have sued the Department of Justice to end the McKitterick Policy, reasoning that, if you don’t know what you’re shooting at, you shouldn’t pull the trigger.

Wild Earth Guardians: wildearthguardians.org

Coyote bounty=bad science

Utah’s “Mule Deer Protection Act” which offers a $50 bounty for killing coyotes is supposed to improve hunting. Utah has tried bounty programs in the past and they doesn’t work. A 2003 article published in Wildlife Society Bulletin says that, “while Utah’s coyote bounty may provide an enhanced, subsidized recreation program for a small segment of Utah citizens, it is unlikely to have any beneficial effect on populations of livestock or big game.”

Sage-grouse & politics

Sage-grouse came under political attack in the FY15 Omnibus Spending Bill passed by the U.S. Congress in December (the one that needs to pass each year to avoid another government shutdown). A rider attached to the bill prevents federal funds from paying to write or issue new sage-grouse management rules. The political attack on sage-grouse is a gift to fossil fuel interests who want to drill in sage-grouse habitat, but Interior Secretary Sally Jewell promised to keep working on sage-grouse issues, saying, “It’s disappointing that some members of Congress are more interested in political posturing than finding solutions to conserve the sagebrush landscape and the Western way of life.”

Utah rules bad for bears

Claiming that Utah’s bear population has grown too large, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources increased the number of bear hunting licenses and implemented a controversial Spring hunting season. Spring bear hunting was eliminated in Utah in 1993 due to public outcry since orphaned cubs can’t survive if their mother is killed.

Wildlife advocates point out that the recent rule changes do nothing to target aggressive bears. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has made little effort towards public education in order to reduce bear-human conflicts.

Quagga mussels come to Utah

Quagga mussels, an invasive species that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) calls “a major threat to our quality of life,” have been found in Deer Creek Reser­voir. The small clam-like creatures filter nutrients out of water, starving fish and other aquatic animals and their shells clog power and water infrastructure.

Quagga mussels colonized Lake Powell Reservoir in 2012 and in 2014 they were discovered in the smooth water section of the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and Lee’s Ferry. DWR predicts that if the mussels become established in Utah, they will cost the state $15 million per year.

Update on tar sands protesters

Twenty-Five tar sands activists were sentenced by a Uintah County judge to probation and community service but none were given jail time after they accepted a mass plea bargain. Some of the protestors had been accused of felony rioting after protesting tar sands strip mining on state-controlled lands in Utah’s Book Cliffs. The activists are members of Tar Sands Resistance, Peaceful Uprising, Canyon Country Rising Tide and other groups from out of state. (See story, this issue.)

Salt Lake air quality news

In an effort to improve air quality, Salt Lake County has passed a new regulation banning wood-burning on red and yellow air pollution alert days. The law exempts households that use a wood-burning stove or fireplace as their sole source of heat, and allows wood-burning in emergency situations such as power outages. To allow for a period of public education, no fines will be issued until 2016.

In other air quality news, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club are suing to challenge a Utah Division of Air Quality permit for expansion of the Salt Lake City Tesoro refinery. Tesoro wants to increase capacity in order to process black and yellow waxy crude from the Uintah Basin.

Comments sought on bikes, transit, roads

Here’s a chance for the public to weigh in on Utah’s future transportation development. The Wastach Front Regional Council (WFRC), an association of governments that does cooperative planning for transportation along the Wasatch Front, has just released a Draft Regional Transportation Plan: 2015-2040 including a future vision for roads, public transit and bicycle infrastructure. Encouragingly, the document is not entirely car-oriented, and in Sep­tember 2014 WRFC won a Bronze Level Bicycle-Friendly Business designation from the League of American Bicyclists.

Open Houses: Feb 9. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Roy City Hall. Feb 17, 4:00-6:00 p.m. Online open house at wfrc.org.

Friday, February 20: deadline for public comments
Wasatch Front Regional Council: wfrc.org

This article was originally published on January 31, 2015.