Environews: May 2017

By Amy Brunvand

Environmental news from around the state and the West.

“The biosphere gave rise to the human mind, the evolved mind gave rise to culture, and culture will find the way to save the biosphere.” – E.O. Wilson (2016: Half-Earth)

Utah may lose protection for some of its most treasured landscapes if Utah Republicans get their way.

At the urging of Utah’s congressional delegation, President Trump has signed an executive order telling the Interior Department to review national monument designations made over the past 21 years in order to evaluate whether their size could be reduced.

The time frame means that both Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are under threat.

In December 2016 Utah Republicans were furious after President Obama used the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah. They immediately launched a disinformation cam­paign against the new monument, claiming that Indian tribes oppose it (in fact, 30 tribes support the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition), that it was a unilateral decision made without local input (in fact, the Interior Department has thousands of pages of documents that show communication with Utah politicians), and that monuments harm economic development (in fact, studies by Headwaters Economics show that local economies typically expand after monument designation).

The Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based think tank that promotes conservative ideology, launched an ad campaign asserting that locals don’t want Bears Ears (Sutherland defines “local” as only people who live in San Juan County; in fact, polls show that about 71% of Utah voters favor keeping Bears Ears).

In the 2017 General Session of the Utah Legislature, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed two ill-advised resolutions, one calling for reducing the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the other calling to rescind Bears Ears National Monument.

National Monuments are controlled by the federal government, not the state legislature, but these two “message” bills were seen as a slap in the face by the Outdoor Retailers Association who reacted by moving their large summer and winter trade shows out of Utah as a protest against public lands policy that they say will hurt outdoor recreation businesses.

Legal experts don’t believe President Trump can unilaterally undo Utah’s National Monuments without assistance from the U.S. Congress. Since national parks and monuments are extremely popular with the public it’s unlikely that many members of Congress from outside of Utah would want to be on record voting against them. In the meantime, the Utah Office of Tourism (an official state agency) has put up a website promoting tourism to Bears Ears National Monument.

Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition: bearsearscoalition.org.

Interior Secretary Zinke: 202-208-7351.

Great Salt Lake on the rise

After a wet winter, Great Salt Lake water levels are at last bumping up from record lows.

Lake levels have been declining since 2010 due to drought and human water use. Low water levels in the lake have significant consequences such lost bird habitat and as toxic dust blowing from the exposed lake bed.

Even though water levels are predicted to keep rising through 2020 the lake will still be lower than normal.

Great Salt Lake Annual Level Prediction: climate.usurf.usu.edu/GSL.php

On Earth Day, Utahns march for science

On April 22 (Earth Day), thousands of Utahns took to the streets again. People carried signs supporting evidence-based inquiry with slogans like, “Cancer doesn’t care about politics,” “Evidence over ignorance,” “We are made of starstuff,” “More science, less fiction” and “Global warming is real.”

Marches nationwide were concurrent with a March for Science in Washington D. C., organized to protest Trump Administration threats to cut federal science funding and Trump’s appointment of climate change deniers to cabinet positions.

In Utah, satellite marches took place in Cedar City, Moab, Salt Lake City, St. George, Logan, Park City and Springdale. Nobel Prize winner Dr. Mario Capecchi addressed the Salt Lake City crowd saying, “We have to start having a policy that will start curbing this global warming. I think it’s a fragile planet and it requires stewardship.”

Next: March for math?

At his recent Salt Lake City townhall meeting, Congressman Chris Stewart (R-Ut-2) boasted of his outdoor prowess and wondered why people assume that conservatives are anti-environment. The 2016 National Environmental Scorecard from the League of Conservation Voters explains why.

The scorecard ranks votes on selected environmental legislation on a scale of 100% (always voted pro-environment) to 0% (always voted against the environment). The lifetime LCV scores of Utah’s congressional delegation (calculated over their entire time in office) are all abysmally low.

Lifetime LCV Score

2%     Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Ut-1)

3%     Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Ut-2)

3%     Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut-3)

1%     Rep. Mia Love (R-Ut 4)

10%    Sen. Orrin Hatch

9%    Sen Mike Lee

LCV Scorecard: scorecard.lcv.org

SLC urban trails growing longer

Salt Lake City’s urban trail network keeps growing! You can see new Parley’s Trail construction along the south side of I-80 where 1.2 miles of new trail and pedestrian bridges will connect Sugar House Park to Tanner Park. When it is complete, Parley’s Trail will be an east-west trail linking the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and the Jordan River Trail.

New signs are also popping up around Salt Lake City to mark bicycle-friendly routes on “quiet streets” such as the McClelland Trail that runs from Fairmont Park to 800 South, almost to the doors of the CATALYST office.

SLC Transportation—Urban Trails: slcgov.com/transportation/transportation-urban-trails

Lower Colorado, America’s most endangered river

A new report from American Rivers names the Lower Colorado as America’s most endangered river. Water users in the Lower Basin currently use so much water that the river dries up before it reaches the Gulf of California. “The river is at a breaking point, with looming shortages in supply that could threaten the security of water and food supplies and a significant portion of the national economy.”

Worse, the Trump Administration’s proposed 2018 budget would cut funding for water conservation programs and could reverse progress that has been made to reduce water consumption in the Lower Colorado River Basin.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers, 2017: americanrivers.org

Bonanza Flat deadline looms

A coalition of 11 nonprofit organizations must raise $3 million before June 15, 2017 in order to save 1,350 acres in the Wasatch Mountains from upscale development. Bonanza Flat, at the top of Guardsman Pass, lies between Brighton, Park City and Deer Valley ski resorts and provides access to the Wasatch Crest Trail.

Save Bonanza Flats: savebonanzaflats.org [NOTE: Be sure to include “s” for website. But the name really is Bonanza Flat.]

SLC climate action plan

President Trump is busy appointing climate change deniers to his cabinet and threatening to renege on the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate action signed by President Obama. Without federal leadership on climate change, U.S. Cities have to lead the way towards climate-neutrality. Salt Lake City is joining the effort with “Climate Positive 2014,” calling for a 100% renewable energy for community electricity supply by 2032 and an 80% reduction in community greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

Climate Positive 2040: slcgreen.com/climatepositive


This article was originally published on May 1, 2017.