By Amy Brunvand

Fundamentally, you need to make vehicles pollute less, make people drive less, or both.

– Deb Niemeier

Condor 1000 takes flight!

The baby California condor that hatched in Zion National Park this past spring has fledged! On September 25, bird watchers witnessed the chick’s ungraceful first flight and reported it to Park rangers.

California Condors are an endangered species re-introduced in their former range through a captive breeding program managed by the Peregrine Fund. The chick is entered in the official “Condor Studbook” as number 1000 (affectionately known as Condor 1K or the Zion Centennial Condor Chick since Zion National Park was founded in 1919).

Currently there are about 90 condors soaring over Utah and Arizona, but condor 1K is the first successful wild-hatched condor in Utah.  The biggest threat to species survival is lead poisoning from eating bullet fragments left by hunters in carrion.

In 2017 the Trump administration repealed a ban on lead bullets despite health hazards for wildlife and people who eat hunted meat.

The Zion National Park Forever Project is seeking funds to facilitate tracking and health checkups for the Zion Centennial Condor. 

http://peregrinefund.org/; Zion National Park Forever Project

Holladay City adopts clean energy plan

Holladay is the latest Utah city with a goal to adopt 100% renewable energy by 2030. In this year’s general session the Utah Legislature passed the Community Renewable Energy Act which allows communities served by Rocky Mountain Power to create a renewable energy program. Communities must opt in by passing a clean energy resolution no later than December 31, 2019. 

Report documents Inland Port concerns

A new report from Envision Utah uncovers deep citizen concern about negative environmental impacts from large-scale industrial inland port development within the boundaries of Salt Lake City.

The public is particularly worried about harm to air quality from increased traffic and industrialization, and harm to wildlife and water quality in the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.

Another key issue is “distrust among the public and stakeholders stemming from a perceived lack of transparency from the UIPA [Utah Inland Port Authority].”

In fact, the UIPA bill was passed at the tail end of the 2018 General Session as a surprise attack on Salt Lake City with little discussion and no public hearings. The public engagement meetings held by Envision Utah in February 2019 were the first opportunity for the public to comment on the Inland Port.

After the UIPA was formed, House Speaker Greg Hughes initially appointed himself as a member, but immediately had to step down due to conflict of interest since he owns property within the Inland Port zone.

Hughes, who was recently seen leading a pro-Trump anti-impeachment rally at the office of Representative Ben McAdams, is currently raising money for his “Hughes Leadership PAC” intending to run for governor of Utah.

Construction has already begun in the Inland Port area even though the current UIPA still has done no comprehensive analysis of impacts to air quality, water quality and wildlife habitat.

The Envision Utah report pooh-poohs public concerns that the port will be used for processing, storage and transport of fossil fuels even though the enabling legislation specifically states “the transporting, unloading, loading, transfer, or temporary storage of natural resources may not be prohibited on the authority jurisdictional land.”

Inland Port Authority Public Engagement Report

Update: Bears Ears, Escalante- Grand Staircase lawsuits

A federal judge has ruled that lawsuits to restore the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments can go forward.

In October the Trump administration filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuits, claiming that the plaintiffs had “suffered no injury” since Bureau of Land Management (BLM) planning processes are still operating. This argument is especially disingenuous since the Trump administration has fast-tracked public lands leasing by eliminating public involvement in land-use planning.

Since the proclamations to downsize Utah’s national monuments, the Trump administration has released new land-use plans for both national monuments that open land formerly preserved within National Monument boundaries to oil and gas leasing, large-scale vegetation removal, grazing and other resource extraction and industrial development.

Frac sand mine in Kane County

Environmental damage caused by fracking in the Uinta Basin is spreading to Kane County where a company called Southern Red Sands is poised to strip-mine hundreds of thousands of acres of dunes for “frac sand.” In the fracking process, small, uniform particles of sand are injected into a rock formation in order to prop open a pathway for water, oil and gas.

Mining will begin on School and Institutional Trust Land (SITLA) property about 10 miles outside of Kanab, but the company holds leases for 13,000 acres on surrounding BLM lands near Peekaboo slot canyon, Diana’s Throne cliff formation, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. The area has relict stands of ponderosa pines.

The Taxpayer Association of Kane County took out a half page ad in the Salt Lake Tribune questioning the involvement of the Gardner Company, a major investor in the frac-sand mine since Chairman Kem C. Gardner usually presents himself as a civic-minded businessman. A petition against the mine is on the Keep Kanab Unspoiled website.

Keep Kanab Unspoiled: keepkanabunspoiled.org

BLM cozies up to industry

On September 10 the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Trump administration mismanagement of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which oversees 22.8 million acres of public lands in Utah as well as 38.6 million acres of subsurface mineral rights.

After interior secretary Zinke resigned amid charges of corruption, Trump appointed fossil-fuel lobbyist David Bernhard to replace him.  Bernhard has, in turn, appointed an anti-government zealot named William Perry Pendley as acting head of BLM. Pendley, who was previously a lawyer for the anti-environmental Mountain States Legal Foundation, uses the Twitter handle @Sagebrush_Rebel.

Last summer without consulting Congress, Bernhard announced plans to move the central offices of the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction in his home state of Colorado.  The move seemed designed to get rid of career staff members, but it’s worse than that.  The Grand Junction BLM offices share a building with oil and gas company offices and lobbyists.

An editorial from the Union of Concerned Scientists calls this kind of corruption “regulatory capture” and warns that once it is allowed to happen, it is very hard to fix.

Edward W. Shepard of the Public Lands Foundation testified, “We believe this plan would require the BLM to serve the short-term wants of locally powerful stakeholders to the detriment of all other constituents and the long-term needs of the public lands. The breakup of the Washington Office structure would ensure the BLM promotes parochial, local interests, rather than the national interest.”

BLM Disorganization: Examining the Proposed Reorganization and Relocation of the Bureau of Land Management Headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Trump a menace to national parks

The National Parks and Conservation Association names three Utah National Parks and Monuments among those most threatened by Trump administration fast-track drilling policies – Hovenweep National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument and Canyonlands National Park.

The report says that “the administration is now offering nearly any parcel that industry nominates for an oil and gas lease, many at only $2 an acre.”

At Hovenweep, only 2% of leased public lands have been surveyed for cultural resources and the report warns, “the area could be industrialized before we even know what we stand to lose.”

Near Canyonlands, there was no public review prior to oil and gas leasing. Near Dinosaur, industrialization has already led to air pollution that violates federal standards.

Oil and gas industrialization is incompatible with the tourism and recreation economy that has been built around national parks and monuments. As the report says,  “National parks are more than iconic landscapes; parks tell the stories of our shared history and cultural heritage.”

Spoiled Parks (NPCA, 2019): npca.org/reports/oil-and-gas-report

Trump Administration opens Utah parks to ATVs

The City of Moab, Town of Castle Valley and Grand County held an emergency meeting in October to oppose a sudden rule change that allows off-road vehicles to drive on National Park roads in Utah.

ATVs (all-terrain vehicles, often used for racing), UTVs (utility task vehicles, designed for rougher terrain) and OHVs (off-highway vehicles, including offroad motorcycles and snowmobiles) have been banned from National Parks since 1972 when President Nixon issued an executive order on off-road vehicle use.  However, a state law passed in 2008 allows “street legal” ATVs to use state and county roads.

In crowded national parks, off-road vehicles are problematic because of noise, air quality, soil erosion, visitor experience and visitor safety.

Unlike ordinary cars and trucks, they are specifically designed to drive off of constructed roads. In lightly patrolled backcountry areas they are nearly impossible to monitor.

The White Rim Trail in Canyonlands and Salt Valley Road in Arches are particularly vulnerable to impacts from the rule change. The resolution opposing the rule states, “NPS, in directing Superintendents to allow this new use in the Southeast Utah Group without the proper compliance and environmental review including public input, has violated its own policies, undermined this important and successful process, and created controversy where there is currently no controversy.”

The rule change was requested by off-road vehicle groups working with Utah legislator Phil Lyman (R-73), a former San Juan County Commissioner who was convicted of misdemeanor for leading anti-federal militants on an illegal ATV ride in Recapture Canyon in 2014. 

Update: Lake Powell Pipeline

The Utah Division of Water Resources has withdrawn an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the Lake Powell Pipeline, a multi-billion dollar project to suck water from the Colorado River system and send it to Saint George, Utah.

The FERC permit was for hydroelectric power generation which was supposed to offset the ultra-high cost of LPP water. The pipeline is not dead since Utah water officials are still applying for water development permits from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Utah Rivers Council says, “The Lake Powell Pipeline is the largest new diversion proposed in the entire Colorado River Basin and ignores the last two decades of climate change science which demonstrates that flows of the river are declining under warmer temperatures.”

This article was originally published on November 1, 2019.