Environmental news from around the state and the West.
—by Amy Brunvand
In memorium Gale Dick
Gale Dick (1926-2014), physics professor, music lover and environmental hero, died on July 18. Together with Alexis Kelner, Dick co-founded the Citizens’ Committee to Save Our Canyons with a mission to protect the Wasatch Mountains from development. Without their efforts the Wasatch Mountains would be a very different place today. Carl Fisher, the current executive director of Save Our Canyons suggests ways to honor Gale Dick’s memory:
•Go for a walk in the Wasatch, enjoy the wilderness.
•Stand up for the remaining wilderness.
•Help others appreciate the Wasatch and be informed about what is happening to it.
Save Our Canyons: saveourcanyons.org
First wild-hatched condor chick in Utah!
Endangered California condors nesting at Zion National Park have hatched a chick – the first wild-born condor in Utah since condor restoration efforts began in the 1980s.
Condors used to inhabit the entire Pacific Coast but by 1982 the population of California condors was down to just 22 birds. To keep the birds from going extinct, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a captive breeding program with chicks hatched in an incubator and raised by people wearing condor-shaped hand puppets.
Condors returned to Utah in 1996 when six captive-bred condors were released in the Vermillion Cliffs near the Utah-Arizona border.
The proud parents of the new chick were both bred in captivity. The Grand Canyon National Park reports that currently there are 70 (make that 71) condors living in Utah and Arizona.
Peregrine Fund: peregrinefund.org
Lead bullets & condors: volunteer effort working?
Probably the biggest threat to condor recovery is the use of lead bullets for hunting. Condors are big vultures that fly long distances in search of carrion. When hunters field-dress game they often leave behind a pile of guts contaminated with lead shot that poisons condors and other wildlife if they eat it.
In 2013, California banned lead ammunition which led to predictable griping from the National Rifle Association and other groups that called the ban “anti-hunting.” For instance, the pro-lead website HuntforTruth.org claims that anti-lead efforts “impede hunters’ rights through the prohibition of traditional ammunition consisting of lead components [and] have used the California condor as a propaganda tool to advance their campaign.” However, if that criticism were true it would have to include the overtly pro-hunting Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR). Utah law does not ban lead bullets, but in 2010 UDWR partnered with a non-profit called Utah Wildlife in Need to implement a voluntary non-lead hunting program patterned on one in Arizona. It might even be working. In 2014 only 16% of Arizona and Utah condors tested showed health-threatening exposure to lead compared to 42% last year.
Utah Wildlife in Need: uwin.org
Can Utah manage wild horses?
As a non-native species originally introduced by humans, wild horses are not exactly wildlife but nonetheless people who love wildlife should be concerned that U.S. Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT-2) has proposed a bill to privatize them. Stewart says his bill is necessary because, “in the 43 years that the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act has been in place, the ranges have been overused, pushing cattle off the ranges and leading to the destruction of important habitat for native species.”
While this is true, Stewart’s bill contains no native species protection. Ranchers who lease grazing rights are notorious for allowing cattle to overuse public rangelands.
Stewart’s “Wild Horse Oversight Act” seems to be part of Utah’s efforts to take control of public lands by grabbing decision-making power from federal agencies. It also seems related to efforts by various groups (such as the anti-condor supporters of HuntforTruth.org, see above) to privatize mangement of wild animals.
Wild horses are currently protected by federal law as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” Horse protection groups (who are a bit like the cat ladies of the horse world) oppose the bill because, in the past, state-level management has resulted in killing and abuse of wild horses.
Drought disaster sweeps Utah
It’s not like we have water to spare. In the hot, hot summer of 2014 the entire state of Utah is included on the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Drought Declaration List. Drought declaration means farmers are eligible for aid from the U.S. federal government.
2014 Drought map: usda.gov/documents/usda-drought-fast-track-designations-071614.pdf
Tar sands activists arrested
On July 21, Peaceful Uprising reported that 19 activists were arrested after blocking roads and chaining themselves to equipment at the U.S. Oil Sands strip-mine site near PR Spring in Utah’s Book Cliffs.
Protesters at the site had traveled from around the country for a week-long Climate Justice Summer Camp.
U.S. Oil Sands (a Canadian company) has leased over 32,000 acres of state land and so far has leveled at least 80 acres of forest and sagebrush. The devastation is happening out of sight from Utah’s populated urban areas.
The negative effects of tar sands mining are mind-boggling. Besides destroying Utah’s treasured landscapes, oil companies are gloating that tar sands in the Western U.S. could prop up the fossil fuel industry a bit longer and prevent a transition to cleaner energy sources, never mind the ever worsening effects of global climate change.
Peaceful Uprising: peacefuluprising.org
Oil shale and the Colorado River
Oil shale speculators in Utah claim strip mining will have minimal impacts on water quality and supplies. However, Chevron USA admitted in a Colorado courtroom that their plan to develop 500,000 barrels of oil per day would require as much water as 1 million people use in a year.
The true confession occurred when Western Resource Advocates (WRA) challenged Chevron’s unused water rights. Chevron responded that the company intends to begin oil-shale strip mining in Colorado and therefore needs up to 120,000 acre feet of water (which would have to come out of the already overstressed Colorado River system).
It has been clear for a long time that the current way of allocating Colorado River water is not working. WRA and American Rivers have teamed up to offer some better ideas in a new report titled The Hardest Working River in the West: Common-Sense Solutions for a Reliable Water Future for the Colorado River Basin.
Western Resource Advocates:
Greater Canyonlands National Monument?
You might ask, isn’t the natural landscape of Canyonlands National Park already protected?
Well, yes and no. For political reasons the National Park is smaller than it might have been, and it is surrounded by BLM land that is already suffering from off-road vehicle overuse, overgrazing and threats from oil and gas development.
One way to protect the Canyonlands ecosystem would be to establish a National Monument in areas surrounding the park. A coalition of environmentalists, outdoor retailers, artists and other supporters of the National Monument idea has produced a new report, Greater Canyonlands National Monument: An Opportunity, A Legacy to describe how the National Monument idea might work.
Nature: healthy for people and other living things
Perhaps the best reason to eschew strip-mining and protect places like Greater Canyonlands is, natural places make people healthier and happier.
Terri Martin at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has drafted a letter to President Obama urging protection of Greater Canyonlands as “a superlative place for all Americans to discover the joy and satisfaction of being physically active” and as a source of mental and emotional rejuvenation and as a reservoir of clean air and water.
SUWA is hoping to find more heath professionals to sign the letter. She is also looking for short (one-page or less) statements or “testimonials” by people (especially Utah residents) who have benefited in terms of physical or mental health/well-being by spending time in wild nature.
Contact Terri at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a Utah-based health professional and would like to sign the letter or if you are willing to write a testimonial.