Environmental news from around the state and the west.
by Amy Brunvand
Ah, Wilderness! 2 million acres for the U.S., and some for Utah, too
On March 30, President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act which protects 2 million acres of wilderness nationwide, including 250,000 acres of Utah wilderness in and near Zion National Park. This is first new wilderness designation in Utah since the Cedar Mountains were added to the National Wilderness Preservation System in 2006.
The omnibus bill bundled together a package of 166 public lands bills, many of which were stalled during the previous administration. Included among these bills was the bipartisan “Washington County Growth and Conservation Act” sponsored by Utah’s own Senator Bob Bennett (R) and Representative Jim Matheson (D). An earlier version of their Washington County bill was strongly opposed by environmentalists largely because it proposed selling federal lands in order to finance county government projects. The bill was revised after Bennett and Matheson worked with citizen groups such as Citizens for Dixie’s Future, the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). The version that passed allows sale of non-sensitive public land around cities such as St. George in order to buy in-holdings in wilderness and conservation areas. It’s a win-win that gives urban centers room to grow while preserving wilderness-quality landscapes. The final Washington County bill could become a model for future Utah wilderness designation.
The Senate passed the omibus bill in early March, but it lost in the House by a mere two votes. In part, the delay was caused by Utah Congressman Rob Bishop who tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to allow concealed weapons in National Parks. In the final votes, Senators Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch and Rep. Jim Matheson (UT-2) voted in favor of the bill (why not send them a thank you letter?); the bill was opposed by Congressmen Rob Bishop (UT-1) and Jason Chaffetz (UT-3).
Here’s what the Omnibus Public Land Management Act does for Utah:
• Designates 132,000 acres of BLM land as Wilderness including: Beartrap Canyon,Black Ridge, Canaan Mountain, Cottonwood Canyon, Cougar Canyon, Deep Creek, Doc’s Pass, Goose Creek, LaVerkin Creek, Red Butte, Red Mountain, Slaughter Creek, Taylor Creek.
• Creates the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs National Conservation Areas.
• Protects 125,000 acres of wilderness within Zion National Park.
• Designates 165 miles of the Virgin River through Zion National Park as Wild and Scenic River.
• Preserves over 100 acres of open space near Park City.
America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act reintroduced; maybe this time?
On April 2, 2009, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) re-introduced America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, which includes nine million acres of wilderness-quality lands as identified by the citizens’ inventory in Utah. The late Congressman Wayne Owens (D-Utah) first introduced the act 20 years ago. In each new Congress when the act is reintroduced, the Utah Wilderness Coalition works to gather co-sponsors to alert members of Congress to Utah wilderness issues and gain support for wilderness designation. The 111th Congress represents the first real chance in a long while to gather enough support to actually pass the Act.
Utah Wilderness Coalition History: www.uwcoalition.org/about/history.html
Utah reps rate less than zero environmentally
The cover of the “2008 Congressional Scorecard” from the nonprofit group Republicans for Environmental Protection features a quote from Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. who says, “If we’re going to survive as a party, we need to focus on the environment.”
However, it appears other Utah Republicans aren’t getting the message. A press release for the scorecard notes, “The lowest scoring members in the House were Congressmen Rob Bishop and Chris Cannon, both from Utah, who scored minus 5.” Bishop and Canon managed to score less than zero because not only did they fail to make any significant pro-environment votes, they received “environmental harm demerits” for efforts to weaken the National Landscape Conservation System Act and block its passage.
The scorecard, which ranks only Republicans in the U.S. Congress (comparing “apples to apples”), rated Senators Bennett and Hatch identically at 57 out of 100 points.
The “greenest” Republicans were Sen. Sue Collins of Maine and Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois.
REP 2008 Congressional Scorecard: www.rep.org/scorecard.html
Tim DeChristopher charged with felonies
On April 28 Tim DeChristopher was arraigned at the Frank E. Moss Federal Courthouse in Salt Lake City. DeChristopher is the University of Utah economics student who monkeywrenched a sale of BLM oil and gas leases that the Bush Administration was trying to push through at the last minute in December. He has been charged with two felonies for interfering with a federal auction and making false representation at an auction. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has withdrawn the 77 disputed leases, including the parcels that DeChristopher bid on, but U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman (a Bush appointee) is pressing charges nonetheless .
Donate to DeChristopher’s legal defense fund: www.bidder70.org/ or send checks: Tim DeChristopher Legal Defense Fund c/o Pat Shea, 215 S. State St., # 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84103.
Canyon Country Zephyr goes digital
He’s back! Last September Jim Stiles, the world’s crankiest environmentalist newspaper editor, packed his bags and moved from Moab to Australia. But “my life didn’t turn out as I’d expected it to,” he writes, and he’s back in Utah covering the New West with “All the News that Causes Fits…Since 1989.” The premiere issue of the Zephyr “Planet Earth Edition” is available online only (the print edition is gone) featuring the Edward Abbey Page, the Canyon Country Watchdog, and Jim Stiles’ marvelous hand-drawn caricatures of his loyal advertisers.
Canyon Country Zephyr: canyoncountryzephyr.com/
Great Salt Lake Bird Festival May 14-18
Celebrate the spring migration at the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival with workshops, field trips, booths and displays and a keynote speech by Scott Weidensaul, author of ” Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds,” “The Ghost with Trembling Wings” and “Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding.”
Great Salt Lake Bird Festival