Environews: June 2017

By Amy Brunvand
Photo Credit: Stephen Trimble (stephentrimble.net)



Will Bears Ears disappear into the clouds — a national monument only briefly, now to be diminished or denied by short-sighted political leaders? —Stephen Trimble

In a colonial enterprise, profitability is the measure by which all endeavors and even the people and the land itself are valued. In Dakota culture, it was our relationships that were the focus and considered the source of wealth, life and ultimately, true humanity. – Jacqueline Keeler in “Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears.”

Trump puts national monuments under attack

On April 26, President Trump signed Executive Order 13792 calling for a “review” of all national monuments that have been designated under the Antiquities Act since 1996 with an explicit agenda of downsizing or rescinding National Monument status.

The review, which was instigated at the request of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, allowed a short 45 days to conduct a review of Bears Ears National Monument (ended on May 27); 120 days are allotted for public comment on the other 26 national monuments initially targeted for review.

In Utah, Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monuments are targeted,. Across state lines, national monuments near Utah include Vermillion Cliffs and Grand Canyon-Parashant (AZ), Craters of the Moon (ID), Canyons of the Ancients (CO), and Basin & Range and Gold Butte (NV).

In May, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was given a Potemkin tour of Bears Ears by a group largely made up of Utah politicians associated with the so-called “Transfer of Public Lands’ movement which advocates turning over federal public lands to state or county management. Although Zinke claims that he has made no decision regarding Bears Ears, Utah politicians are telling a different story.

Phil Lyman, the San Juan County commissioner convicted of trespassing and conspiracy for leading an illegal off-road vehicle ride in Recapture Canyon, has said that Zinke promised to rescind Bears Ears, while Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) has been posting messages on his Facebook page boasting of his confidence that Bears Ears will be rescinded.

The 1906 Antiquities Act that allows presidents to declare national monuments was signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt in order to protect archaeological sites from looting.

Four out of Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks began as national monuments including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Arches.
Bears Ears Comment period is already over. Public comments on other national monuments are due by July 10, 2017. Submit written comments online at www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search,” or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW., Washington, DC 20240.

Artists celebrate Bears Ears

Donald Trump may hate Bears Ears, but artists and writers in Utah are inspired by our new national monument. Torrey House Press has just released two anthologies celebrating Bears Ears: Red Rock Stories: Three Generations of Writers Speak on Behalf of Utah’s Public Lands, a trade edition of an artists’ chapbook that was delivered to every member of the U.S. congress last June; and Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears, featuring essays and poetry by Native Americans about the sacred Bears Ears landscape.

Meanwhile, Repertory Dance Theatre has commissioned a new Bears Ears-inspired work from Zvi Gotheiner. Dancers from RDT and ZviDance have toured the Bears Ears region for artistic inspiration. Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters will premiere in October 2017.

At Bison Bison Candy Shop you can buy a commemorative enamel pin, and Utah Diné Bikéyah has a spectacular new Bears Ears poster with artwork by C.D. Cross of Retro Ranger Graphics.
Torrey House Press: torreyhouse.org/;
RDT Dancing the Bears Ears: rdtutah.org/bearsears
Bison Bison Candy Shop: http://bisonbison.bigcartel.com/
Utah Diné Bikéyah: http://utahdinebikeyah.org/

Recapture Canyon (sort of) closed to ATVs

San Juan County can have an off-road vehicle trail, just not in the bottom of Recapture Canyon. In 2014, after BLM closed an illegally constructed trail to motor vehicles, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman (apparently fired up by anti-government supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy) led a protest ride in Recapture Canyon resulting in his conviction for conspiracy and trespass. In April the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) denied a request from the County to make the illegal trail permanent, but approved an alternate trail plan that avoids the ecologically sensitive canyon bottom and fragile archeological sites. Recapture canyon remains open for hiking and horseback riding.

Nuke repository back from the dead?

In 2012 President Obama shut down plans to build a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget includes “$120 million to restart licensing activities for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and initiate a robust interim storage program.”

That’s a drop in the bucket for a multi-billion dollar project, but nonetheless on April 26, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on a bill to revive the Yucca Mountain project.

Over strong objections from the state of Nevada, the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act designated Yucca Mountain, Nevada as the site for the first national high-level nuclear waste repository (Utah dodged a bullet since a site near Canyonlands National Park was also under consideration). Representative Dina Titus (D-NV-1) spoke at the hearing calling Yucca Mountain a “failed project” and an “illusion of a solution.”

The Yucca Mountain facility would need to perform for at least one million years, but the area is geologically unstable, and Titus concluded, “Geologically, Yucca Mountain is not the solution to our radioactive waste problems, no matter how much money might be spent.”

Outdoor recreation is a job creator

More Americas are directly employed by hunting and fishing than by oil and gas extraction, says a new report from the Outdoor Industry Association.

Outdoor recreation supports 7.6 million American jobs and $887 billion in consumer spending, making outdoor recreation one of America’s largest economic sectors.

Besides economic benefits, the report says that outdoor recreation is an “underappreciated and underfunded weapon against crime, poor academic performance and rising health care costs,” and contributes to quality of life that attracts employees to a community.
Outdoor Recreation Economy Report: outdoorindustry.org/ resource/2017-outdoor-recreation-economy-report/

Sage grouse in trouble

The September 2017 BLM oil and gas lease auction includes priority habitat for sage grouse in Utah’s Sheeprock Mountains. The Wild Utah Project calls sage grouse “canaries in a coal mine” since their presence indicates a healthy sage brush ecosystem. The Sheeprock sage grouse population has dropped by nearly 40% over the past four years, and in 2016 the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources transplanted 40 sage grouse to the area from Box Elder County.

“It’s a waste of money trucking in new sage grouse and then putting their habitat on the auction block,” points out Western Watersheds Project energy campaign coordinator Kelly Fuller.

The BLM says more than 340 species depend on sagebrush ecosystems for survival, but Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) says sagebrush ecosystems have no value and should be open for “multiple uses”
Wild Utah Project wildutahproject.org/sage-grouse

Wildlife overpass for I-80

Thanks to citizen activism, wild animals in Utah are getting a new overpass to help them safely cross I-80 at Parley’s Summit. It’s good for the animals, but people will benefit, too.

Insurance data shows that each year about 1 in 150 Utah motorists hits a large animal such as a deer, elk or moose. An estimated 20,000 deer are hit by cars in Utah every year, and according to the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies each deer-vehicle collision costs society a total of about $8,000 for vehicle damage, insurance claims, medical bills, removal of carcasses and loss from the recreational value of deer (that would be hunting as well as tourism for the purpose of wildlife watching). Parley’s Summit lies on a major migration route for mule deer so it’s a particular problem area.

Two citizen groups, Save People, Save Wildlife and Wildlife Protection Society were active in persuading the Utah Department of Transportation to build the new wildlife bridge.
Save People, Save Wildlife: facebook.com/savepeoplesavewildlife; Wildlife Protection Society: facebook.com/ Wildlife-Protection-Society-220685314645660/?ref=ts

SITLA threatens to boot hunters

The Utah State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) website boasts that “trust lands are open to the general public for hunting,” but if you read down the page you’ll see that the State of Utah pays an annual fee for public access rights. Now SITLA is threatening to jack up the access fee by millions of dollars based on enormous fees that wealthy trophy hunters pay to hunt on private land.

Trust Lands are managed to raise revenue for Utah schools, and Utah Code Section53C requires SITLA to get “fair market value” on leases and sales while specifying that beneficiaries “do not include other governmental institutions or agencies, the public at large, or the general welfare of this state.”  However, SITLA has been held up as a model for how the state of Utah could manage public lands “better” than federal agencies by promoting land uses that raise money. With the State of Utah in charge, public lands users could expect to pay more—maybe a lot more.

Lots of water in Utah

In April, snowpack in Utah was 126% of normal, compared to 97% last year, and overall reservoir storage was at 62% of capacity—up 5% from the same time last year according to data from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Yay, water! Don’t waste it!

Water Conservation Garden opens at Red Butte

A rain dance performed by Wasatch Eagle Dancers celebrated the late May grand opening of a new Water Conservation Garden at Red Butte Garden. The intent is to show a low-water landscape so beautiful you will want one in your own yard, and Red Butte Garden offers classes to teach you how.
Red Butte Garden: redbuttegarden.org

This article was originally published on June 1, 2017.