Environews, Regulars and Shorts


By Amy Brunvand

Environmental news around the state and the West.
by Amy Brunvand

The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not.
—Aldo Leopold

Keep an eye on the Utah Legislature

The 2015 General Session of the Utah Legislature runs January 26-March 12. The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club tracks environmental legislation and offers environmental scorecards for the voting records of Utah legislators. Contact the Utah Rivers Council, HEAL Utah or the Utah Sierra Club to find out how you can be a more effective citizen advocate for the environment.

Utah Sierra Club Politics & Legislation: utah.sierraclub.org/content/politics-legislation

Stop the Utah land grab

In 2012 Governor Gary Herbert signed the Transfer of Public Lands Act which requires the U.S. Federal government to hand over 31.2 million acres of public land Utah by Dec 31, 2014. Never mind that the legislation appears to be unconstitutional.

In November a team of Utah economists issued a report about whether Utah could afford to manage those public lands if they did gain control. Various Utah politicians claim the report gives them the go-ahead to start spending your tax dollars on lawsuits against the federal government.

What the report actually says is: The proposed land transfer would create “a major shift in the economic structure of Utah,” and not in a good way.

The State could afford to manage federal public lands only if the federal government hands over oil and gas revenues from existing leases (not likely), if the price of oil stays high (which it has already not done) and if the state assumes an “aggressive” approach to managing its mineral lease program.

An Analysis of a Transfer of Federal Lands to the State of Utah: bebr.business.utah.edu/page/transfer-federal-lands-state-utah

Seep Ridge Road: Tar sands or tourism?

Now that the price of oil is low, Utah Senator Kevin Van Tassell (R-Vernal, the same guy who wanted to impose an extra fee on hybrid and electric vehicles because they don’t pay enough in gas taxes) is trying to pretend that the Seep Ridge Road “Energy Highway” through the Book Cliffs is really part of a tourism development plan for a “National Parks Highway” to carry sightseers from Yellowstone to Arches National Park.

A little history: Seep Ridge Road used to be a dirt road in a remote part of the Book Cliffs. However, under pressure from Red Leaf Resources, Inc. it has been widened and paved at a cost of $86.5 million specifically in order to carry heavy truck traffic to oil-shale and tar sands properties leased by he State of Utah.

The Seep Ridge paving project was a target of protest by environmental groups trying to halt tar-sands development in the area. The idea of a “Book Cliffs Highway” has been floating around since the 1980s as a way to promote fossil fuel extraction (and incidentally prevent Wilderness designation), and an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Book Cliffs Highway was issued back in 1992.

With the Seep Ridge Road already paved it would only require another 40 miles of pavement (and $110-470 million or so of public money) to connect Seep Ridge with to I-70 in Grand County. The Utah Department of Transportation has already drawn up a study of routes through Sego Canyon, Hay Canyon or East Canyon.

The roadless areas in the Book Cliffs and Desolation Canyon are known as “Utah’s Serengeti” for abundant populations of elk, deer, mountain lions and black bears. Whether serving fossil fuel development or tourism, a paved highway through the Book Cliffs would not be a good thing for the animals who live there.

Save the birds of Great Salt Lake

The Great Salt Lake ecosystem is habitat of hemispheric importance for millions of migratory bird species, and lucky us, we live right next to it. However, plans to divert massive amounts of water from the Bear River in order to support urban growth might not turn out so lucky for the birds.

The Bear River provides 60% of inflow to the lake, and a proposed Bear River Water Development project would reduce the lake level and shoreline perimeter, turning Great Salt Lake wetlands into dewatered wastelands like Owens Lake or the Aral Sea.

The worst part is, the huge water project is not even necessary. Due to subsidized water rates, Utah has the highest per/person water use in the nation, and much of that water goes to overwater grass lawns. Friends of Great Salt Lake (FoGSL) is calling for a comprehensive watershed restoration and protection program focused on preserving the lake ecosystem and says, “The fate of Great Salt Lake will be decided by our generation.”

Friends of Great Salt Lake fogsl.org

The Sixth Extinction in Utah

One of the best science books of 2014 is The Sixth Extinction: an Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert about human-caused animal extinctions. Animals formerly found throughout Utah but now locally extinct include Gray wolves (1930), grizzly bears (1923), whooping cranes (2002) and Relict leopard frogs (1950).

Animal species in trouble indicate ecosystems in trouble, and Utah animals that are in enough trouble to be either on under consideration for the Endangered Species List are: Kanab ambersnail, coral pink sand dunes tiger beetle, Lahontan cutthroat trout, humpback chub, bonytail chub, least chub, Virgin Chub, Colorado pikeminnow, woundfin, June sucker, razorback sucker, desert tortoise, California condor, yellow-billed cuckoo, Mexican spotted owl, Southwestern willow flycatcher, greater sage-grouse, Gunnison sage-grouse, Canada lynx, Utah prairie-dog and black-footed ferret.

Next time you need a cute animal fix, look up Utah’s endangered/threatened species. Okay, not all of them are particularly cute, but by getting to know them you will get to know a lot more more about the place where you live.

Sad news about Utah condor chick

Utah’s first wild-hatched California condor chick didn’t make it to adulthood. In November observers no longer saw the chick that was hatched in Zion National Park and the parents stopped visiting the cave.

“The loss of Utah’s first chick is a hard reminder that critters have a tough go of it in the wild,” said Chris Parish, condor program director of the Peregrine Fund. The good news is, two chicks in Arizona have successfully fledged and there are now 73 condors in the wild in Arizona and Utah. u

This article was originally published on December 30, 2014.