Roundup Monday June 29, 2009

Architect to take over U’s Office of Sustainability

—Brian Maffly, Salt Lake Tribune, 6/29/09

Myron Willson has been named head of the University of Utah’s Office of Sustainability.  Willson will replace Craig Forster, an urban planner who initiated the program and died last year in a fatal hiking accident.  Willson has specialized in green and sustainable building principles and design in an institutional setting, and has served as adjunct faculty in the college of Architecture and planning.

Great Salt Lake cleans itself of natural pollutant

—Judy Fahys, Salt Lake Tribune, 6/29/09

Selenium, a naturally occurring substance of critical concern in large amounts, has been found to evaporate from the lake, keeping toxicity levels in check.  Bill Johnson, a University of Utah geologist, and David Naftz of the U.S.G.S., have studied selenium cycling in the lake and recently published findings.  Kesterson Reservoir in California offers a historic example of selenium concentrates harming waterfowl.  In 1987 the reservoir was given a toxic waste designation and filled in.  While evaporation—possible due to chemical reaction of selenium with salt water—lowers concentration, the Lee Creek, Bear River, Weber River and Farmington Bay inlets account for about half of incoming selenium levels.  24 percent comes from a Kennecott Utah copper drain.  Nafitz said toxin levels from selenium are not currently high enough to harm millions of resident and migratory birds that inhabit the lake.  Many unanswered questions have been raised, including a recent selenium spike and an unidentified source of as much as 1.6 tons of selenium in the lake per year.  At any given time the Great Salt Lake contains 5.5-8 tons of selenium, which cycles every 3-5 years.  2-4 tons are exhaled into the atmosphere.  70 micrograms—about a grain of table salt’s worth—is the recommended daily human allowance.  400 micrograms per day over time would likely cause a number of severe health related issues.  The Utah Division of Water Quality is using a limit of selenium in mallard eggs as a key indicator and threshold for selenium toxicity in the lake.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife is challenging this threshold, saying it would allow some birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to die.  Kennecott Copper’s discharge permit, up for renewal, under UDWQ’s new guidelines would allow an increase of up to 3 times current selenium discharge levels.

Public lands in 6 states, including Utah, set for solar projects

—Ken Ritter, AP; Salt Lake Tribune 6/29/09

Interior secretary Ken Salazar has set aside 1000 square miles of land in Western states for study and environmental reviews in an effort to locate solar development.  Salazar’s intent is to have 13 commercial scale projects underway by the end of 2010.  Optimally they will be located on lands with excellent solar potential and limited wildlife, resource and user conflicts.  Salazar set a 100,000 megawatts production goal.  Utah tracts to be studied are north of Cedar City.  Targeted are lands of at least three square miles with solar exposure, suitable slopes, and proximity to roads and transmission lines.  Maps of the sites will be published Tuesday in the Federal Register.  Joining Salazar at the public announcement was Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who said; “We want to not be dependent on foreign oil.  This will make America a more secure nation.”

ESB Editor’s Note: To my knowledge, commercial scale solar would go a long ways in reducing the need for coal fired power plants, as well as gas fired power plants, but according to statistics at the U.S. Energy Information Administration, our use of foreign gas is small, and oil reduction would come only from the reduction in coal transportation by diesel trains.  The real primary benefit of wind and solar is a negligible carbon footprint, and reduction of emitted greenhouse gasses.  Additionally, due to the world markets and global corporate structure, production of oil sufficient to take care of America’s current oil needs would still be traded on the open global market, rather than lowering foreign oil imports or otherwise eliminating dependence on foreign oil.

Ozone levels rising; health risks, too

—Judy Fahys, Salt Lake Tribune 6/29/09

Monday was declared a “red” day due to increasing ozone in Salt Lake and Davis Counties following smog-suppressing June thunderstorms.  Weber county is expected to reach “red” levels ahead of another thunderstorm cycle.  Very young, very old, and those with heart and lung problems are most at risk.  The Utah Asthma Center web page has some of the findings of a recent local study, including a symptom chart.  Utah County has an “action alert” in place through Wednesday; drivers should carpool, link trips, and minimize driving.  Because ozone levels peak in the afternoon with the heat of day, gassing up in the morning helps reduce ozone-building chemicals in the air.

JBS Swift Beef Co. expands beef recall

—AP, Salt Lake Tribune 6/28/09

The original recall of 41,000 pounds has been expanded to 380,000 pounds, after 24 illnesses were found in multiple states, 18 of which have the same cause.  The company is based in Greeley, Co.

Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District’s garden shows

the path to water-wise beauty

—Patty Henetz, Salt Lake Tribune 6/27/09

The Conservation Garden Park is peopled with a certified master gardener or apprentice for advice and tours Saturdays from 9-10:30 a.m.  Statistics from the article include:

65% of Utah homeowner’s purified water goes to landscaping

1.5 million people are predicted to expand present population levels by 2030

The conservancy district says current water use rates can’t support that growth.  The demonstration garden is meant to serve as a starting point for landscape planning for homeowners and commercial landscaping.  Several model gardens are on exhibit, including a harvest garden, waterwise woodland, and a plant favoring xeriscape garden.  Soil testing and knowing landscape dimensions before planning are key actions.


Marmot causes ruckus at restaurant

—AP, Salt Lake Tribune, 6/27/09

The marmot was prodded out of the Prosser, Washington restaurant to freedom by diners.

Family farms fading away

—Rebecca Walsh, Salt Lake Tribune, 6/26/09

The Miya farm, at the intersection of Syracuse, Layton and Clearfield, has been active for more than 60 years.  The Japanese family has been farming in the valley since 1906, though Japanese farmers couldn’t buy property until after World War II.  Encroachment by development, including the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, has eaten away at original farming acreage, leaving just 60 acres surrounded by homes.  Locavores are noted for their farmer’s market support of one-man organic farms that are struggling to survive.  Multi-generational roadside stand friendly farms are going out of business.  Steve Rosenberg of Liberty Height Fresh noted “the most fertile land in the valley is covered with tract houses, rather than fields and orchards”.  Utah’s agricultural statistics show an increase in Utah farms from 15,282 seven years ago to 16,700 in 2007, but most of that growth has come from large farms generating over $500,000 a year in sales.  Small farms are growing in number, but traditional farms are disappearing.  Rosenberg has pointed to customer penny-pinching as a main culprit in loss of farm viability.  “If we really do cherish these producers, we should pay what it’s worth and not a penny less.”

Utah’s House members vote against climate change bill

—Thomas Burr, Salt Lake Tribune 6/26/09

Though the bill passed 219-212 without their support, Democrat Jim Matheson, and Republicans Rob Bishop and Jason Cheffetz all voted against the bill.  Matheson’s key concern was that the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 would unfairly impact Utah’s coal producers.  Chaffetz referred to the bill as “potentially the largest tax increase in the history of America”.

ESB Editor’s note: A recent EPA study found that the potential tax increase would be $80-$100 per year per household (See “House climate bill set for vote” in the June 25th edition of this blog).  The editor wonders where Chaffetz would have been on the original commitment of $87 billion for the first year of the Iraq war, based presumably on the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

Ugly e-waste piling up in Utah

—Judy Fahys, Salt Lake Tribune 6/26/09

Some Utahns are using the public lands for dumping old computer monitors and other e-waste, and using them for target practice.  The digital television conversion June 12 also has driven up e-waste volume.  The Salt Lake Valley Health Department, which offers free e-waste disposal at the Trans Jordan and Salt Lake Valley landfills, have seen a 20% increase in e-waste of all kinds over the past few months.  $30,000 has been spent so far to recycle 88 tons of e-waste.  The tradeoff is that heavy metals and other hazardous materials—like lead, mercury, and flame retardant chemicals—are kept out of environmentally contaminating places like the public lands or leaching landfills.  One computer monitor can contain 10 pounds of lead.  The key issue is making electronic recycling easy and inexpensive.  The EPA has estimated that as of 2007, there were 234.6 million cell phones, televisions, computer parts and accessories destined for disposal or recycling.  Sand and gravel pits on BLM lands have become favored dumping sites, each costing between $2,000 and $7,000 to clean up.

Trial delayed for accused monkey-wrencher

—Patty Henetz, Salt Lake Tribune, 6/26/09

Tim DeChristopher, the University of Utah student who disrupted the Utah BLM’s oil and gas lease sale last December 19 in order to draw attention to the Bush administration’s fire sale of sensitive lands, is now scheduled to face a jury beginning September 14.  The trial was pushed back to give DeChristopher’s lawyers more time to prepare.  One of the key contentions is that Federal prosecutors want to prevent the argument that the fake oil and gas bids DeChristopher made were to combat the global climate crisis.  DeChristopher’s lawyers have announced a defense based on “necessity” or “choice of evils”.  Prosecutors fear the defense would “encourage improper jury nullification”, rather than trying DeChristopher on whether or not he intentionally falsified bidding.  DeChristopher has called the intentionally false bidding an act of civil disobedience in protest of Bush administration oil and gas policies that threaten to further impact the global climate crisis and the health of everyone on the planet.

BLM tightening access to southern Utah cave

—AP, Salt Lake Tribune, 6/26/09

Beginning July 6, only 30 people per day will be allowed into Utah’s largest cave, Bloomington Cave, near St. George.  The 1.3 mile long cave, a favorite among explorers, spelunkers and boy scouts, has been vandalized and trashed by less environmentally concerned parties.  Additionally, the stringent measures will hopefully protect fragile geologic formations and the declining number of Townsend’s big-eared bats.

Kennecott wraps up hunt for ore in Rose Canyon

—Jeremiah Stettler, Salt Lake Tribune, 6/26/09

Kennecott Copper prospectors have finished an initial ore survey, but the fate of the west side wilderness will remain in question.  Kennecott, which owns the subsurface rights, will not decide until late this year whether to commit to more invasive exploration of the publicly owned open space.  The 1,700 acre Oquirrh Mountain open space, purchased for $8.7 million by Salt Lake County two years ago, is home to pine forests, sagebrush and scenic steep canyons.  Planning and public hearings are already underway to develop a management plan for the southwestern portion of the wildland.  If Kennecott decides the ore beneath Rose Canyon is of insufficient value to mine, they may help the county secure the mineral rights to the canyon.

Woman fed turkey-killing bear, is evicted from her house

—AP, Salt Lake Tribune, 6/26/09

A woman in Newport Oregon fed black bears that came to her home, but the bears became aggressive.  One killed 60 turkeys in a neighbor’s barn.  Others became aggressive and constant pests at her house.  While wildlife officers are chasing the bears from the rural area near Yachats, the 61 year old woman was convicted of harassing wildlife and sentenced to three years probation.  In addition, she has been ordered to stay away from her home and a seven-mile stretch of Yachats river road for three years.  The bears are known for losing their fear of humans in similar situations and becoming nuisances.  The woman had been warned to stop feeding the bears as early as 2003 but refused to listen, witnesses said.  Neighbors testified that they had become frightened to go outside due to the number of bears the woman had attracted to the neighborhood.

National Elk Refuge among 10 most imperiled, greens say

—AP, Salt Lake Tribune, 6/26/09

The National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming has been listed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility as one the nation’s 10 most imperiled wildlife refuges.  Artificial feeding at the habitat during winter was cited for spreading disease and degrading habitat.  Diseases threatening the habitat include brucellosis, which has infected the herd, and chronic wasting disease, which has not yet made it to the refuge.  Lack of sufficient staff also was cited, leaving management, research and education tasks unfinished.  While threats from global climate change threaten many of the nation’s 540 wildlife refuges, critics point to artificial feeding politics as driving key decisions endangering the National Elk Refuge.

To stop disease spreading, bighorn hunt OK’d

—Tom Wharton, Salt Lake Tribune, 6/26/09

The Utah State Parks Board has changed language in the Antelope Island management plan to allow wildlife managers greater flexibility to establish hunts, in addition to options such as transplanting bighorn sheep off the island.  Surveys have shown that ¾ of visitors to the island would oppose a hunt, but many mature rams carry diseases that can decimate a herd.  The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep were first brought to the island in 1997, and have grown from 23 to about 160 head.  The Utah Legislature has previously mandated an annual bison hunt on the island, generating about $8,100 annually.  Three trophy ram hunts a year could generate $150,000 annually, and the money could go into the island’s habitat management program.  A trophy mule-deer hunt has been rejected.

Listen up!  Fish in acidic waters grow bigger ears

—Randolph Schmid, AP, Salt Lake Tribune 6/26/09

Oceanographers attribute the growth in internal ear organs of fish to the presence of more CO2 in the ocean.  The additional CO2 absorption due to additional greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere from humans has caused oceans to become more acidic, weakening and dissolving shells.  The fish’s otolith is made up of minerals, and was predicted to be vulnerable to similar acidic ocean impacts.  The report was published in the June 26 edition of Science magazine (  Because the otolith affects a fish’s ability to stay upright, navigate and survive, the larger otoliths require further study to determine their impact on fish.

New report on climate change impacts in southern Utah shows importance of protecting public lands and healthy ecosystems

—Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance 6/16/09

A new report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, documenting the national impact of climate change, reinforces the conclusion that the Southwest will most impacted.  Temp increases could be 4-10 degrees F, and significantly more than the global average.  Results could include expansion of deserts, drier conditions, water shortages, more intense storms, unstable soils, shrinking habitat, and larger and hotter fires.  Heidi McIntosh, SUWA associate director, said that the findings emphasize the need for the BLM in particular to enhance the ecological health of southern Utah landscapes against impending stressors of climate change.  She especially cited reducing ground disturbance from ORV’s and oil and gas development, and protecting water resources, riparian areas and soil stability.  Notably, none of the six new resource management plans released by the BLM for Utah in 2008 included analysis of the impacts of climate change.  SUWA is challenging the BLM’s refusal to recognize the impacts of climate change in federal court.  The report supports USGS findings on the impacts of climate change on the Colorado Plateau in 2007.  Of especial concern is ground disturbing activities that lead to dust storms similar to those from the Owens valley and as great or greater than those of the historic Dust Bowl.

Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States

USGS report on the Colorado Plateau

Utah Land Exchange Bill Passes House Committee

—SUWA, Redrock Report June 2009

H.R. 1275, the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009, recently passed the House Natural Resources Committee and is awaiting a full vote in the House of Representatives.  The bill, strongly supported by SUWA and the Utah Wilderness Coalition, would exchange wilderness-quality lands held by the state of Utah for Federal lands more appropriate for economic development and state school trust profit-making.  Iconic landscapes that could be protected include areas near Moab such as Castle Valley, Onion Creek and Sand Flats Park.  Many state parcels are completely surrounded by lands proposed for wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, and are currently vulnerable to the most profitable economic development possible.  Congressman Matheson, the School and Institutional Trusts Land Administration (SITLA), and the Grand Canyon Trust in particular are noted for co-writing the legislation and meeting with many diverse and interested stakeholders.  The legislation would balance conservation and development needs in a mutually beneficial way.

Keep in Mind

The Canyon Country Zephyr is online:

Canyon Country Watchdog—Doug Meyer

The Snake Valley v. Las Vegas water controversy is visited in this edition.  This controversy, which has been ongoing and concerns Las Vegas’ need for more water, and their attempt to secure water from the aquifer under the Snake Valley in rural eastern Nevada and western Utah, is also the subject of a PBS documentary titled Desert Wars:  Water and the West, which originally aired in 2006, and featured interviews with local environmentalist and landscape photographer Ed Firmage.  Meyers notes that the hearing for the Snake River Valley Project has been delayed to 2011, and has many colorful things to say about Southern Nevada Water Authority’s Patty Mulroy, lead spokesperson for the Las Vegas project.  Meyers covers the Lake Powell pipeline, Navajo economic interests, and the recently passed National Landscape Conservation System in fine satiric form.

Desert Wars:  Water and the West


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