Environmental news from around the state and the West.
—by Amy Brunvand
E.O Wilson recently calculated that the only way humanity could stave off a mass extinction crisis, as devastating as the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, would be to set aside half the planet as permanently protected areas for the 10 million other species.
—Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014
Utah without seagulls?
Utah without seagulls? Say it isn’t so! A new report from National Audubon Society says that California gulls are rapidly losing habitat, and while “a few landfills and fish-filled harbors are all they need” in winter, the summer habitat of our state bird is drying up due to desertification and water diversion.
The Audubon report compiles 30 years of citizen-science data to evaluate the effects of global climate change on North American birds and the picture is bleak. Of 588 species studied, more than half will lose more than 50% of their current climatic range by 2080.
Utah is home to a number of Important Bird Areas that provide essential habitat for one or more species, including some globally important bird areas at Great Salt Lake, Zion National Park and the Greater Canyonlands area.
Audubon Climate Report: climate.audubon.org/; Important Bird Areas: web4.audubon.org/bird/iba/
Utah water plan: Dry up Great Salt Lake marshes
Utahns have a responsibility to protect the Globally Important Bird Areas in and around Great Salt Lake, and the Bear River is the single greatest water source for the lake. That’s why it is alarming to learn that the Division of Water Resources is asking the legislature for funding to build six new dams on the Bear. The plans have not been made public for comment.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, says, “The Division is telling elected officials we need to spend billions on Bear River development, while refusing to let the public see their junk report on this disastrous project. It’s disturbing they are hiding this proposal from Utah taxpayers while asking them to foot the bill for the devastation of the greatest wetland ecosystem in the American West.”
Utah Rivers Council: utahrivers.org
Utah congressmen love Canyonlands. No, wait….
On the 50th anniversary of Canyonlands National Park, Senators Orrin Hatch (R) and Mike Lee (R), plus Representatives Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 3), Chris Stewart (R-UT 2), and Rob Bishop (R-UT 1) sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell praising those with the foresight to create the park. The letter says, “Standing on the edge of a 1,000-foot cliff and seeing for hundreds of miles somehow puts life into perspective.”
However, the letter goes on to oppose protection of the Greater Canyonlands area for fear of shutting out 4-wheel drive vehicles and tasks support for the “Grand Bargain” public lands bill being drafted by Rob Bishop who is a longtime opponent of Wilderness and public lands conservation.
It seems doubtful that our children will owe any debt of gratitude to this group of congressmen for their foresight.
Salt Creek still not a road. Frogs celebrate.
It’s déjà vu all over again! 16 years and millions of your tax dollars later, Salt Creek in Canyonlands National Park is still not a State Highway. A federal court rejected an appeal by San Juan County and the State of Utah which have been trying to force the National Park to open Salt Creek to jeep travel ever since the creek bed was closed to motor traffic in 1998 in order to prevent damage to the river ecosystem.
Besides providing water to park wildlife, Salt Creek is home to many species of frogs and toads. The Park Service says that when they sing, it is an “awesome event that can fill a canyon with sound, sometimes for hours.”
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: suwa.org/
Oil leases threaten White River, Green River
You’d think it would be a no-brainer to keep industrial development away from Utah’s rivers, especially after a series of oil spills into the Green River earlier this year. Nonetheless, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) November Oil and Gas Lease Sale includes parcels directly adjacent to the White River and the Green River.
Both rivers offer popular river trips and important wildlife habitat, not to mention drinking water for the entire lower Colorado River Basin. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance are suing to block the irresponsible leasing.
Prairie dogs caught in the middle
Endangered Utah prairie dogs are caught in the middle of an absurd attack on the Endangered Species Act by Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT 1). Stewart wants to change the Endangered Species Act by requiring the federal government to count animals living on both public and private land, never mind that the federal government has been accused of “takings” for trying to manage endangered species on private lands. Meanwhile in Wayne County The Nature Conservancy wants to buy property from the Utah State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) for Utah prairie dog habitat, but county commissioners oppose the sale because of a (let’s just say it outloud) crazy county policy that asserts county control over all federal public lands within the county and declares, “Wayne County’s policy and plan regarding the Utah Prairie Dog is that it is no longer endangered or threatened and should be de-listed.”
Can Utah manage sage grouse?
Here’s another example of why it’s a bad idea to let the State of Utah manage endangered species. sage grouse are beautiful dancing birds that gather each year at traditional dancing spots called “leks” in order to strut their stuff and find mates. No leks, no sage grouse chicks.
The State of Utah has been desperately trying to keep sage grouse off of the federal endangered species list mainly because there is a lot of oil and oil shale under sage grouse habitat (and by “desperately” I mean that the State of Utah spent $2 million taxpayer dollars to lobby congress against listing sage grouse.)
So, in 2013 Utah Governor Gary Herbert developed a “Conservation Plan for Greater Sage Grouse in Utah” to prove the state could manage the birds. The first test of the state plan is a request to re-zone a ranch near East Canyon Reservoir in Morgan County so that the landowner can develop a new resort on property within a state-designated sage grouse management area that includes an active sage grouse lek. The landowners say they can develop around the lek and pointed out that if they really wanted to get rid of the birds they could have simply let off-roaders into the area.
Well, yes, but that’s exactly why counting endangered animals on private lands is such a bad idea.
Utah Sage Grouse Plan : wildlife.utah.gov/ uplandgame/sage-grouse/. Utah Sierra Club: Sage Grouse Preservation: utah.sierraclub.org/content/ sage-grouse-preservation
Wasatch Interconnect zombie hard to kill
A proposal to turn the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City into one giant ski resort has been kicking around since 1982. Since that time ski resorts have pushed new lifts so far into the backcountry that Ski Utah already offers an Interconnect Tour for a mere $325/person.
However, that hasn’t stopped the ski industry from announcing yet another version of the “One Wasatch” plan that would connect seven ski areas and absorb what’s left of the Wasatch backcountry near Salt Lake City.
Why is the ski industry so fixated on the One Big Resort idea? Probably because they are afraid of climate change. In 2009 the Park City Foundation commissioned a climate change report: “By 2050 Thanksgiving snow depths at the base area are predicted to be at or near zero for all scenarios.” As climate change pushes snowpack later and higher, Park City (aka Vail ever since the hostile takeover in September) will probably only be open for Thanksgiving if the skiing is really at Brighton or Alta.
Park City Climate Change Study: parkcitymountain. com/site/mountain-info/learn/environment/ ParkCityClimateChangeAssessment9-29-2009.pdf; Save Our Canyons : saveourcanyons.org/
Want to vote for environmental candidates? Ask the Sierra Club!
Don’t forget to vote on election day, Tuesday, November 4! The Sierra Club is one of the few environmental organizations that can actively lobby for the environment and endorse pro-environmental candidates at elections, and the Utah Chapter is active in both areas. Check with the Utah Sierra Club to identify candidates who are likely to work for wildlife conservation, clean air and water, clean energy, alternative transportation and other good things.