Environmental news from around the state and the West.
—by Amy Brunvand
Happy 50th birthday to the Wilderness Act, signed into law September 3, 1964.
It makes sense that Wilderness is a Virgo — a loner, uncomfortable in crowds, annoyed by vulgarity, stupidity and carelessness, a realist full of serious thought and clear purpose, quiet, steady and dedicated to service.
Wilderness photos at Natural History Museum
In celebration of the 50th birthday of the Wilderness Act, the Natural History Museum of Utah is showing a special exhibit of 50 photographs of Utah public lands. The exhibit opens September 3, 2014. Look for other events to celebrate wilderness as the date approaches.
Natural History Museum of Utah: nhmu.utah.edu/wilderness50
Happy 50th birthday to Canyonlands, too!
Happy birthday to Canyonlands National Park, established September 12, 1964.
The Greater Canyonlands Coalition (a group of familiar environmental organizations) is ramping up a national campaign encouraging President Obama to designate 1.8 million acres of public lands surrounding the park as a Greater Canyonlands National Monument. As a lame-duck president, Obama has a chance to use the Antiquities Act to designate new national monuments before he leaves office as President Clinton did when he designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) in 1996.
Whenever new National Parks and Monuments are created, the local communities scream like it’s the end of the world, but after a bit of time passes the benefits become too obvious to deny. In 1996, the outcry from communities near GSENM was loud and resentful, but 10 years later a poll showed that 69% Utah citizens loved the new monument. Jobs and income in the area grew significantly after monument designation, according to a report published by the independent research group Headwaters Economics.
The economic value of National Parks was proven beyond a doubt during the Republican-led government shutdown, October 1-16, 2013. A government report shows that at Arches National Park alone, visitor spending declined by $3.9 million dollars despite state funds used to re-open the park .
However, one of the best arguments for creating the Greater Canyonlands National Monument is simply that the boundaries of Canyonlands National Park should have been bigger in the first place. Fifty years ago when the park was created, the usual suspects complained that it would ruin the economy. Due to political wrangling, the size was reduced. In 1971 the park was expanded to include the Maze, Land of Standing Rocks and Davis and Lavender Canyons.
This past July 14 Senators wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to designate a Greater Canyonlands Monument. Utah Governor Gary Herbert has invited those 14 to come visit Utah so that they can see “what we are doing preserve these iconic vistas and venues and optimize the use of our public lands.” [I don’t know about you, but that word “optimize” sound ominous to me.] Herbert wants conservationists to get behind Representative Rob Bishop’s (R-1-UT) Public Lands Initiative, but Bishop has a long history of opposition to conservation management of public lands. You can bet that Utah’s anti-environmental congressional delegation is in Washington D.C. telling their colleagues that Utahns don’t want a new monument.
It’s time to raise our voices to say, yes, we do! It’s time to make the protected landscape of Canyonlands complete.
NPS Visitor Spending Effects: nature.nps.gov/ socialscience/economics.cfm. Grand Staircse-Escalante N.M: HeadwatersEconomics.org/ wphw/wp-content/uploads/escalante.pdf. Greater Canyonlands Coalition: GreaterCanyonlands.org
Bicycle network expands in Salt Lake County
Last month Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan launched a new bicycle network plan with two projects to improve commuter bike routes in Sandy. Salt Lake County has developed plans for a future 1,500-mile bicycle commuter network that will make biking to work more practical throughout the whole Salt Lake Valley. The commuter network will first be roughed out along existing routes. Money from a bike transportation development fund will be available to create trail connections and other improvements.
According to U.S. Census data, Provo and Salt Lake City are among the top 15 medium-sized cities for bicycle commuting. A census report notes that bicycle commuting is growing by leaps and bounds: “Between 2000 and 2008–2012, the number of workers who traveled to work by bicycle increased by 60.8%, from about 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000.” That’s still only 0.6% of the population, but the trend is clear: As more bicycle infrastructure is built more people choose to bike to work.
SLCo Bicycle Commuter Network: slco.org/regional-development/bicycle-commuter-network/; Modes Less Travelled (U.S. Census Bureau) census.gov/prod/2014pubs/acs-25.pdf
Utah Rivers Council calls water report “junk”
The Utah Rivers Council says that a new government report calling for $32 billion in in new taxes and public debt to finance large water projects in Utah is nothing but a scare tactic. The report “Utah’s Water Dependent Economy” was prepared by a Las Vegas consultant (not by objective economists) and it seems intended to keep tax dollars flowing to oversized water projects like the ill-advised Lake Powell Pipeline. “The report claims Utah will face economic disaster if a massive tide of government spending is not initiated,” says xxthe Council. “The report doesn’t mention that Utahns have the highest water use in the U.S., or that all four water districts encourage Utahns to waste water by lowering the price of water through property tax collections on homes and businesses.”
Utah Rivers Council: utahrivers.org
West Davis Corridor on hold
The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has at least temporarily put the brakes on the West Davis Corridor, a new freeway project that would extend the Legacy Highway and slice into Great Salt Lake wetlands and migratory bird habitat. UDOT says it needs more time to evaluate the options; the current goal is to reach a record of decision on the project by the summer of 2015.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has threatened to deny permits for the proposed freeway due to negative environmental impacts, but an alternate proposed route would destroy homes, businesses and farmland.
Utahns for Better Transportation says the best option is not to build a freeway at all. They have written a “shared solution” that would provide congestion relief while reducing air pollution, and preserving farmlands, communities and wildlife habitat.
So the good news is, it is still possible that UDOT could adopt the shared solution instead of building an unnecessary freeway.
Utahns for Better Transportation: hutahnsforbettertransportation.org