By Amy Brunvand

A community in the thrall of the attention economy feels like an industrial farm, where our jobs are to grow straight and tall, side by side, producing faithfully without ever touching.

– Jenny Odell (How to Do Nothing)


Proposed highway endangers desert tortoises

Can a desert tortoise preserve still preserve habitat if it has a four-lane highway running through it? Through January 6, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are accepting public comments on environmental impacts from a proposed “Northern Corridor” highway that would slice through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve in Washington County.

A little history: The Reserve was formed in 1995 during a period of rapid human  population growth to comply with the Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan, a multi-agency plan to protect habitat for threatened desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii). In 2009 the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area was created by Congress as part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act.

Since then, BLM has spent tens of millions of dollars to buy out private inholdings for conservation (explicitly not for a highway right-of-way).

In 2015, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced bad-faith legislation trying to change the rules in order to construct a new road through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. This road is supposedly “necessary” to reduce congestion on I-15, but like all such new highways, it is actually a conduit for real estate development.

The citizen group Conserve Southwest Utah has proposed a smart growth alternative to the Northern Corridor Project that would modify existing roads in order to “avoid the continued trend of transportation planning chasing development.”

Even though Hatch’s bill never passed, Utah Representative Chris Stewart (R-Ut-2) and Senator Mike Lee (R) have kept pushing for the highway and in 2018 the Utah Department of Transportation requested permission for a right-of-way through the Reserve.

This would involve changing three management plans—for the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, the Red Cliffs NCA and the BLM St. George Field Office Resource Management Plan. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would need to issue a permit for incidental “take” (i.e. killing) of Mojave desert tortoises, listed as threatened on the Endangered Species List.

Turtles and tortoises are not good at crossing roads. Scientific studies of desert tortoises show that the “road effect” of reduced tortoise populations extends at least 400 meters from paved highways; as few as 300 vehicles passing per day increases tortoise mortality. A study of turtles in Florida found that 98% of turtles that attempted to cross a busy four-lane highway were killed by traffic.

Red Cliffs Desert Reserve: redcliffsdesertreserve.com; Red Cliffs National Conservation Area: blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/utah/red-cliffs-nca; Conserve Southwest Utah: conserveswu.org; Northern Corridor Environmental Impact Statement (Public Comments due by January 6, 2020 to BLM_UT_NorthernCorridor@blm.gov) https://go.usa.gov/xpC6H


Off-road threat to San Rafael Desert

Public comments are needed on a catastrophically bad Travel Plan for the San Rafael Desert that would turn a remote desert landscape into a motorized free-for-all.

Under the BLM preferred alternative, motorized off–road routes would expand from 300 miles to more than 775 miles, popular hiking trails would be open to motorized travel, and newly created routes would cross the San Rafael River and crowd up against the newly designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness Area.

A map of the BLM proposed plan is available on the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance website; BLM ePlanning has the full details and a submission form for public comments.

BLM Travel Plans (SUWA): suwa.org/blm-releases-disastrous-draft-travel-plan-for-the-san-rafael-desert/ (public comments due  by January 13, 2020). Comment on documents must be made via that BLM e-Planning Website, http://go.usa.gov/xQ2vH, click on “Documents” and “Comment on Document” under Draft Environmental assessment Public Comment Period.


Support America’s Redrock Wilderness Act

Ask your out-of-state friends and family to call their U.S. representatives and senators to co-sponsor America’s Redrock Wilderness Act (ARWA)!

ARWA will be re-introduced in Congress by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47). If the bill passes it would add 8.2 million acres of Bureau of Land Management Lands to the National Wilderness Preservation System. It’s not likely to pass, though.

Utah Senator Mitt Romney (R), and congressmen John Curtis (R-UT-3) and Rob Biship (R-UT-1) are trying to frame ARWA act as “selling out” the recently passed Emery County Public Land Management Act. It’s not.

ARWA was first introduced in 1989 by Utah Rep. Wayne Owens (D-UT-2). Since then it has been continually re-introduced as a tool to communicate the scope of Utah’s wilderness-quality public lands documented by the Citizens’ Proposal for Utah Wilderness. This is an accurate, ground-truthed map of the truly wild lands that remain in Utah. It is an invaluable tool with which to communicate with citizens nationwide about the value of Utah’s public lands, and was in fact used to identify wilderness-quality lands for the Emery County bill. Every year the Utah Wilderness Coalition sends citizen lobbyists to Washington to advocate for Utah wilderness using the Citizens’ Proposal map.

Utah Wilderness Coalition: protectwildutah.org


RIP Legacy Parkway Agreement

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has announced that on January 1, 2020 the 14-mile Legacy Parkway will raise speed limits to 65 miles per hour and allow large semi-trucks to use the road for the first time since construction.

The rule change marks the end of a better, less environmentally destructive, more human-scaled highway design that many citizens fought hard to achieve. See CATALYST, April 2019: https://catalystmagazine.net/a-legacy-worth-keeping/

In 2001 Utahns for Better Transportation, the Sierra Club and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson signed an agreement to withdraw their lawsuit opposing the highway in exchange for bike trails, dark sky lighting, no billboards, noise-reducing pavement, low highway speeds and the truck ban. The Great Salt Lake Legacy Parkway was designated as a Utah scenic byway in 2002.

The Utah Legislature refused to renew the agreement and let it sunset in order to facilitate increased traffic to the Inland Port area.

It seems that after 15 years, UDOT has finally gotten their wish for a large environmentally destructive freeway cutting through sensitive Great Salt Lake wetlands and residential neighborhoods.

Corridor Management Plan, Great Salt Lake Legacy Parkway (2008): travel.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/ Legacy-Scenic-Byway-Management-Plan-Dec-2008.pdfBe


Keep your recycling out of the dump

China’s “National Sword” policy, enacted in January 2018, has changed the landscape for recycling in Utah.

In the past, the contents of curbside blue bins were loaded into shipping containers and sent overseas. Now, the U.S. is trying to build back its own recycling capacity. That means it’s especially important to keep your blue bin uncontaminated.

These rules are for Salt Lake City. If you don’t live in Salt Lake City, look up the rules for the place where you live.

YES: Cardboard boxes and packaging, paper, plastic containers, paper bags.

NO:  Plastic and Styrofoam packaging material, bubble wrap, plastic bags, thin plastic wrap,  dog food bags,  cardboard packaging stained by food.

SLC.gov/ What can I pub in my blue recycling can? https://bit.ly/2Mm5F2J

Bison make spring greener

Yellowstone’s migrating bison herds make grass grow more quickly and last longer according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Typically, grazing animals migrate in the spring to follow a “green wave” dependent on climate, weather and topography. However, intensive grazing by bison herds provides plants with more sunlight and more fertilizer.

The research indicates that the large bison herds that used to inhabit the Great Plains engineered a more productive grassland ecosystem, and the researchers conclude, “restoring lost bison migrations will require that these animals be allowed to freely aggregate, intensely graze and move in sync with landscape-level patterns of plant phenology.”

However, restoring bison migration means overcoming political barriers. The National Bison Legacy Act passed in 2016 designated the North American Bison as the national mammal of the United States, but had no provisions for restoration.

Efforts to restore bison to the landscape outside of Yellowstone National Park are documented in Kurt Repanshek’s new book Re-Bisoning the West (2019). In 2014, American Indians and Canadian First Nations signed the Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty to restore bison to 6.3 million acres of tribal lands in order to “welcome BUFFALO to once again live among us as CREATOR intended by doing everything within our means so WE and BUFFALO will once again live together to nurture each other culturally and spiritually.”

Another large-scale effort for bison restoration is the American Prairie Reserve in Montana which is buying private ranches in order to re-wild prairie habitat.

Opposition to bison restoration comes largely from ranchers and the Montana State Legislatures which is sympathetic to ranchers. The Trump administration has refused to review the status of Yellowstone bison for endangered species protection.

Engineer the Green Wave: pnas.org/content/early/2019/11/20/1913783116; American Prairie Reserve: americanprairie.org

This article was originally published on December 30, 2019.