By Amy Brunvand

Environmental news from around the state and the West.

For the 15th consecutive month, the global land and ocean temperature departure from average was the highest since global temperature records began in 1880. This marks the longest such streak in NOAA’s 137 years of record keeping.
–U.S. NOAA State of the Climate Report, August 2016

City Creek purchase adds SLC open space

Salt Lake City recently purchased 305 acres of open land in the foothills near City Creek to help preserve the Salt Lake City watershed and a segment of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. The purchase used up the last remaining money from a $5.4 million Open Space Bond Fund passed by Salt Lake City voters in 2003.

A press release from Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski lists all the wonderful open spaces taxpayers got for their money, including “seven open space sites along the Jordan River Parkway (35 acres), six open space sites in the foothills and along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (315 acres), and four open space sites along Emigration and Parleys Creeks (10 acres). Properties protected with bond funds include the scenic Bonneville Shoreline Preserve in the city’s north foothills, natural grasslands around the H-Rock on the east bench, Wasatch Hollow Preserve nestled along Emigration Creek, the Sugar House Draw connecting Sugar House Park to Hidden Hollow, and key parcels along the Jordan River corridor near North Temple that will facilitate completion of the 50-plus mile Jordan River Parkway Trail.”

Hatch, Lee want machines in Wilderness Areas

Utah Senators Orrin Hatch (R) and Mike Lee (R) are trying to change the definition of wilderness by forcing land managers to allow bicycles on wilderness trails.

The 1964 Wilderness Act specifically bans “mechanical transport” which includes bicycles, but the “Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act” introduced in the U.S. Congress by Hatch and Lee would give land managers just two years to write new travel plans before any wilderness areas not specifically excluded would be opened to devices with a mechanically assisted living power source (not necessarily just bicycles).

The bill is part of an ongoing attempt by Utah’s congressional delegation to eliminate wilderness protections by legislation, particularly egregious in the Public Lands Initiative (PLI) promoted by Rob Bishop (R-Ut-1) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut-3) as a “grand bargain for Utah’s public lands.”

“The sheer number and types of special provisions in the PLI ensures the Wildernesses designed by the PLI would lack many of the protections afforded by the Wilderness Act, a Wilderness Watch analysis of the PLI observes. “They would become what have been referred to as WINOs—Wilderness in Name Only.”

Wilderness Watch: WildernessWatch.org

Most Utahns want Bears Ears

Despite loud shouting of opposition voices, a poll on behalf of the Pew Charitable Trusts found that a small majority of Utahns actually favor creating a Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah; 53% of those polled supported the idea of a monument; 41% opposed.

Interestingly, 74% agreed that the most convincing argument in favor of Bears Ears is knowing that Utah political leaders have opposed every existing national park and national monument in Utah.

The current version of the Public Lands Initiative (PLI) bill would create a smaller, less conservation-oriented “Bears Ears National Conservation Area” instead of the national monument proposed by the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition.

A quote on the PLI website misleadingly implies support from the Pew Charitable Trust. However, a July 14 letter from Pew Public Lands Director Mike Matz says that if serious flaws in the PLI can’t be resolved quickly, “Pew believes that President Obama should use his authority, granted by Congress under the Antiquities Act, to protect the Bears Ears area as a national monument.”   President Barak Obama could possibly use the power of the Antiquities Act to create national monuments before he leaves office on January 20, 2017.

Bears Ears Poll: PewTrusts.org

Wildlife Overpass for I-80?

Safe wildlife road crossings are essential to prevent habitat fragmentation, and a citizen group in Park City is pressuring the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to help stop excessive wildlife roadkill on Interstate 80 by connecting animal migration routes.

Save People, Save Wildlife says, “There is a nine-mile stretch of Interstate 80 through the Park City area that has no wildlife fencing and desperately needs wildlife bridges to maintain migration corridors across I-80. It is called the Snyderville Gap. We need UDOT to install wildlife fencing and wildlife bridges to help protect the wildlife and allow them to thrive in the Park City area and migrate through safely.”

Wildlife bridges covered with soil and natural vegetation have been proven to work for a wide variety of animal species. The first wildlife overpass in the United States was built in Utah over I-15 near the town of Beaver in 1975 to facilitate mule deer migration.

Save People, Save Wildlife: SavepeopleSaveWildlife.org; Wildlife and Roads: WildlifeAndRoads.org

Moab Master Leasing Plan (a good thing)

During the G.W. Bush administration, the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was told to rush through new Resource Management Plans (RMP) for public lands in order to prioritize resource extraction. The sloppily written plans were challenged in court by environmental groups, and Tim DeChristopher’s 2009 act of civil disobedience called national attention to the threat of oil and gas development at the edge of Utah’s national parks.

A new Moab Master Leasing Plan responds to the RMP’s environmental problems. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says the new plan demonstrates a responsible balance between conservation and resource extraction on public lands, providing protection for areas such as Fisher Towers, Porcupine Rim, Six-Shooter Peaks and Goldbar Canyon, and protecting views, dark skies and clean water in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

Moab Master Leasing Plan: blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/moab/MLP.html; Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: SUWA.org

Coal ash spills into Price River

Closing a coal-fired power plant solves air quality problems, but leaves behind other pollution problems. Last month a flash flood washed 2,700 cubic yards of coal ash from the retired Rocky Mountain Power Carbon Power Plant into the Price River.

The Utah Division of Environmental Quality says the spill “wasn’t as bad as it could have been.” Rocky Mountain Power has promised to cap the enormous ash pile which is located in a narrow canyon.

However, there is still a danger of future water contamination: According to HEAL Utah and the Utah Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Power continues to mishandle coal ash at the nearby Huntington power plant which is still in operation. They have filed a lawsuit.

Navajo Nation sues over sacred river contamination

The Navajo Nation has named the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several gold mining companies in a lawsuit seeking damages for an accident that spilled three million gallons of toxic acid mine waste into the San Juan River watershed. The lawsuit states, “The River is one of four sacred rivers that are the boundaries of the Navajo universe. The four rivers are one whole, as the Earth Mother and the Navajo People are one whole in Navajo thinking. The San Juan and Colorado Rivers are the male sides, and the Rio Grande and Little Colorado are the female sides. The San Juan River is an integral part of the Navajo oral history, and was part of the Navajo ceremony when the Navajo ceremonies were learned from the holy people. Accordingly, it is a key component in all Navajo ceremonies, and is mentioned in all Navajo ceremonies.”

Groups drop anti-nuke lawsuit

HEAL Utah, Uranium Watch and Living Rivers have dropped a lawsuit to prevent Blue Castle, LLC from building a controversial nuclear power plant in Green River, Utah. It’s not that dewatering the Green River and risking nuclear meltdown has suddenly become a good idea. Rather, the lack of investors suggests that the nuclear project will fail on its own, particularly since Blue Castle will need to start paying water districts for the 53,000 acre-feet of water they are leasing.

HEAL Utah: HealUtah.org

Climate denier keynote at Uintah Basin Energy Summit

A featured speaker at the 2016 Unitah Basin Energy Summit was filmmaker Phelim McAleer who the San Francisco Chronicle calls “climate denial’s Michael Moore.” McAleer is the director of a pro-fracking film titled FrackNation, which has been compared to infamous propaganda campaigns launched by big tobacco companies to cover up the dangers of cigarette smoking. McAleer claims his film was supported by small grassroots donations, but actually it is what’s known as “greenwashing;” an industry-funded project with an intention to discredit Josh Fox’s influential anti-fracking films Gasland and Gasland: Part II.

Collection of hard-to-recycle materials, September 24

Wait! Don’t throw that old bike helmet in the trash. It can be recycled. The Utah Recycling Alliance is hosting a pop-up CHARM event (Collection of Hard-to-Recycle Materials) on September 24 at 352 West 900 South, Salt Lake City. The list of accepted items ranges from gently used bras to car seats to American flags. Some items like tires and mattresses require a small fee, but it’s worth it to keep things out of the landfill.

Utah Recycling Alliance: UtahRecyclingAlliance.org

This article was originally published on September 1, 2016.