Environews, Regulars and Shorts

EnviroNews: March 2013

By Amy Brunvand

An Outdoor Recreation Vision for Utah; Poll shows Utahns love our public lands; Can we talk about Greater Canyonlands?; Environmentally friendly ski areas?; Green River safe from Zombies (for now).
by Amy Brunvand

An Outdoor Recreation Vision for Utah

Recently the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) has been threatening to move their economically important summer and winter shows away from Salt Lake City in part due to the obvious hostility of Utah’s state government towards conservation of public lands that support outdoors recreation businesses. After the OIA pointed out that Governor Herbert has released a 10-Year Energy Plan (heavily slanted towards propping up fossil fuel and tar sands industries, but a plan nonetheless), but no recreation plan, the Governor formed a committee that wrote a report titled “Utah’s Outdoor Recreation Vision” which suggests creating a permanent Office of Outdoor Recreation to keep studying the issue.

The report is actually a good start. On the plus side, it acknowledges the key role outdoor recreation plays in Utah’s economy and quality of life; it advocates increased funding for things like state parks; it suggests bringing all stakeholders to the table to discuss the future of Utah’s public lands.

On the other hand, the report fails to address the very same attacks on public lands that worried the OIA in the first place. For example, the report suggests “Resolve RS2477 claims in Utah’s counties as expeditiously as possible and with consideration for access to popular recreational areas.” This refers to 22(!) lawsuits that the state of Utah has launched at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars trying to claim that every dirt track in Utah is a “highway.” The intent is to prevent Wilderness designation so “access” in this context probably means unlimited motorized access, not a road that leads to a hiking trailhead.

The report also fails to repudiate Governor Herbert’s demand that all 30 million acres of federal lands in Utah be turned over to the control of the State of Utah; and it says nothing at all about protecting Greater Canyonlands.



Can we talk about Greater Canyonlands?

The above-mentioned Utah Outdoor Recreation Vision plan says state government should facilitate public dialogue and praises the stakeholder cooperation that resulted in the much-praised Washington County Land Act of 2009.

Senator Jim Dabakis and Representative Patrice Arent introduced a bill (SJR 10) calling for public input and discussion on how the Greater Canyonlands region should best be protected for recreational purposes. An overflow crowd packed the committee hearing. Canyonlands advocates like authors Terry Tempest Williams and Stephen Trimble, former State Archaeologist Kevin Jones, and Mark Ritchie (COO of Black Diamond) gave heartfelt testimony about the economic and spiritual value of Greater Canyonlands.

However, various members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee worried that the word “protection” might mean the area was protected from oil and gas drilling, asserted that people protect land on their own without government regulations, and claimed that Canyonlands would still be beautiful no matter what kind of development happened.

In the end, the Committee voted to take up the resolution again later during an Interim Committee meeting. Call your state legislators. The public dialogue could still happen, and it should.

Sign up as a citizen co-sponsor to SJR 10: http://jdabakis.com


Environmentally friendly ski areas?

Save Our Canyons blasted the 2012-2013 Ski Area Citizen’s Coalition Environmental Scorecard as flawed, incomplete and misleading for failing to consider resort expansion plans that would eat up huge swaths of Wasatch Mountain backcountry.

The resort expansion plans conflict with the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act, which would limit Canyon development in order to protect the water supply for Salt Lake City. Expansion plans are also at odds with Utah’s Outdoor Recreation Vision which says the state should “play a leadership role in convening a stakeholder process to develop specific plans for the Wasatch Canyons over the next 50 years.” Issues of main concern:

• The Canyons Resort (owned by Talisker) is the driving force behind SkiLink, an atrocious plan to privatize a strip of land through the Wasatch National Forest in order to build a new ski lift though popular backcountry hiking/biking/skiing terrain.

• Snowbird wants to build a mountain roller coaster and houses on Mount Superior, and is currently constructing a 30,000-square-foot four-story structure on top of Hidden Peak.

• Alta is requesting permission to build new lifts on Flagstaff Mountain and Grizzly Gulch, as well as an interconnect lift to Heber City.

• The “Lift Utah” coalition is proposing interconnect lifts between all seven central Wasatch ski areas, of which SkiLink is only the first step.


Poll shows Utahns love our public lands

At the hearing on SJR 10, Terry Tempest Williams mentioned a new poll from the Colorado College State of the Rockies project which shows that most Utah citizens (62%) want to protect sensitive public lands from development. However, half (51%) of Utah voters are not sure of the position their member of Congress has taken on protecting land, air, and water. (Hint: Of the Utah Congressional delegation, the League of Conservation Voters 2012 scorecard gives Jim Matheson (D-4) the highest score with 17% of 100% possible). The poll also found that Utahns are the most enthusiastic outdoorspeople in the West— 91% of Utah voters engage in at least one outdoor recreation activity on a regular basis. About a third (37%) of the Utah voters polled thought it would be a good idea to sell public lands. Support for selling public lands diminished further after people heard the arguments on both sides of the issue.



Green River safe from Zombies (for now)

In February federal regulators turned down an application from WyCo Power and Water to build a 501-mile pipeline to suck 81 billion gallons/year of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir and send it to Pueblo, Colorado. “The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a zombie,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, Water & Energy Policy Analyst at Western Resource Advocates in a press release. “It’s just staggering around looking for anything to latch onto to keep it alive, while everyone else is running away screaming.”

Meanwhile at the Utah Legislature Senator Curtis Bramble (R-Provo) was trying to prop up the zombie proposal for a nuclear power plant in Green River by introducing a bill that would eliminate “lowest reasonable cost” requirements for utility development and make utility customers pay construction costs.

In 2012 American Rivers named the Green River America’s second most endangered river due to threats of massive water withdrawals.


This article was originally published on March 1, 2013.