Environews: October 2009

By Amy Brunvand

Environmental news from around the state and the west.
by Amy Brunvand

Historic hearing on Redrock Wilderness Bill

By the time you read this, America’s Redrock Wilderness Act (H.R. 1925) will have taken its first step towards advancing the legislation though Congress.

The bill to preserve 9.4 million acres of Utah’s spectacular red rock country as wilderness is based on the Citizens’ Wilderness Proposal for Utah, and it was first introduced by Utah Congressman Wayne Owens 20 years ago. When Owens left Congress in 1992, he asked his friend, Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), to sponsor the bill, and for the past 15 years it has been re-introduced in every session of Congress.

“This is a historic moment in the long effort to protect Utah’s magnificent wilderness landscapes throughout the state,” says Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Places like Cedar Mesa, the San Rafael Swell, the Green River and the West Desert are one step closer to achieving the lasting protection they need and deserve.” The Oct. 1 hearing will have provided an opportunity to more fully discuss why Congress should pass America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. “This part of our country is some of the most remarkably pristine and beautiful land in the world and this bill would ensure that it stays that way forever,” says Hinchey.

The Redrock Wilderness hearing is especially exciting news for members of the Utah Wilderness Coalition, a group of over 200 national, local and regional conservation groups with a mission to protect all Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wilderness-quality lands in Utah. For the past 20 years, America’s Redrock Wilder­ness Act has been kept alive by persistent citizen activism from millions of members of UWC member groups (UWC is currently led by an executive committee representing Earth Justice, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Wasatch Moun­tain Club, and the Wilderness Society.) To celebrate this historic event, take a few minutes to contact your member of Congress to say you support Utah wilderness and are thrilled that America’s Redrock Wilderness Act is finally getting a hearing.

Utah Wilderness Coalition: www.uwcoalition.org. wwwresourcescommittee.house.gov.

County can’t grab park roads, court rules

A federal court has ruled that Kane County officials broke the law when they tried to undo off-road vehicle restrictions in the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument by removing trail closure signs and replacing them with county road signs. The court decision said Kane County has to prove they have the right to control the trails before they have any management authority over them.

That’s probably good news for Salt Creek in Canyonlands National Park, which currently faces a similar lawsuit from San Juan County. Jeeps used to be allowed to drive through Salt Creek, which is a year-round fresh water stream, but they were causing such severe damage to the stream ecosystem that the National Park Service closed the trail 10 years ago. San Juan County asserts that because vehicles traveled there prior to 1964 when the Park was established, the Park should now be forced to let vehicles to drive in the creek regardless of the damage they cause. Luckily, there’s not much evidence that the creek ever really was used as a “road” before the Park was there.

State to review Great Salt Lake plan

The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands has started a process to update the 10-year-old management plan for the Great Salt Lake. The plan revision was announced after Great Salt Lake Minerals applied for a massive expansion of its operation that could severely impact the lake ecosystem. Conservation groups like Friends of Great Salt Lake fear that with Governor Huntsman gone, industrial use of the lake will take priority over migratory bird conservation. In 2009, the agency also awarded $200,000 for seven research grants to study issues that the agency has identified as the top five most critical issues facing the Great Salt Lake:

1. Effects of a drying lake

2. Assessing habitat quality

3. Effects of diking

4. Mercury

5. Monitoring

Great Salt Lake Planning: www.ffsl.utah.gov/sovlands/gsl.php. Friends of Great Salt Lake: www.fogsl.org

Cool stuff about Great Salt Lake waterbirds

Great Salt Lake Waterbird Survey (1997-2001) is a five-year study that examines the relationships of migratory waterbirds with the GSL ecosystem through the spring, summer and fall seasons, between years, and across a variety of habitats.

A five-year mean of around 86 million bird days (a bird day is defined as one bird spending 24 hours within the study area during the study period) highlights the importance of the lake to migratory birds.


Great Salt Lake bird archive project

Last year photographer Rosalie Winard displayed her marvelous pictures of birds at the Utah Museum of Natural History. This year she is working on an online photographic archive of Birds of the Great Salt Lake to be used as a scientific index, to encourage birding, and as a resource for the general public to understand the irreplaceable value of Great Salt Lake wetlands.


Wolf hunt undermines restoration efforts

On September 1, the first Idaho wolf was shot after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took Montana and Idaho wolves off the Endangered Species List in May. The Natural Resources Defense Council says the state’s wolf hunting regulations are likely to reduce the state’s wolves to unsustainable population levels. Suzanne Stone representing Defenders of Wildlife says the wolf hunt “undermines decades of tremendous support, time and investment from the American public, federal, tribal and state wildlife agencies, and threatens one of the most successful wildlife restorations in history.” Wolf hunting will continue while the court considers restoring endangered species protection.

UTA begins construction on Airport TRAX

The Utah Transit Authority has begun major construction on the long-awaited Airport TRAX light rail line. You should be able to ride TRAX to the airport in 2013.


This article was originally published on September 30, 2009.