Environmental Politics, Think
Environews: December 2012
Outdoor industry supports Greater Canyonlands, opponents throw tantrum; State land grab a money loser; Lake Powell pipeline too costly.
—by Amy Brunvand
Outdoor industry supports Greater Canyonlands, opponents throw tantrum
The Outdoor recreation industry is pushing back against a controversial law that would transfer control of Utah’s federal public lands to the State of Utah. On November 13, more than 100 outdoor businesses sent a letter to President Obama asking him to protect 1.4 million acres in Greater Canyonlands by declaring a National Monument. The letter points out that the outdoor industry is, “an overlooked economic giant, generating $646 billion in national sales and services in 2011 and supporting 6.1 million jobs,” and that the future of the outdoor recreation economy depends on protecting iconic landscapes from threats like drilling, mining, excessive road-building and privatization. In the 1960s, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall proposed 1 million acres for Canyonlands National Park, but political wrangling reduced the actual size to only 337,597 acres. That means there is a lot of unprotected wilderness-quality land surrounding the park, suffering from damage by irresponsible off-road vehicle use and in danger of being leased for tar sands strip mining.
In response to the Outdoor Retailers’ letter, off-road vehicle advocates launched a nasty Facebook campaign that urges people to post ugly comments on websites of companies that signed the letter. These threats of retaliation mirrored an unpleasant incident in September when the Great Old Broads for Wilderness held their annual meeting at the Nature Conservancy’s Dugout Ranch near Canyonlands. Vandals slashed and spray-painted the Great Old Broads’ banner, hung a bloody mask and threatening note on the fence and locked the exit gate, creating a serious security risk for the mostly elderly campers.
Governor Herbert’s hostile land grab (see below) seems to have encouraged the kind of bad eggs who think they can get their own way though tantrums, bullying and threats. You can support Greater Canyonlands by contacting the White House to support the proposal, and also by patronizing supportive businesses.
State land grab a money loser
A new “Report on Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act, H.B. 148” indicates that if the State of Utah did somehow succeed in gaining control of 30 million acres of federal public lands it would be a money loser, not a source of education funds as proponents claim. A report by the Constitutional Defense Council, released in November, found that “the issues involved are too complex and the implications of large-scale land transfers are too far-reaching for rapid or hasty examination.”
The report also suggests some approaches to public lands issues that could be far more productive than the current stalemate of fussing and fighting, and almost none of the report’s recommendations actually require a transfer of ownership in order to be effective. The report suggests the State of Utah should:
• Increase funding for existing State Parks to demonstrate Utah’s commitment to conserving and protecting its natural landscapes.
• Increase funding for the LeRay McAllister Critical Land Conservation Fund.
• Create a Utah State Wilderness Act to protect high-conservation value landscapes. Identify and designate wilderness and conservation areas.
• Outline an open and public process for public land management decisions.
• Transfer management of key conservation areas and ecosystems to non-profit organizations.
• Limit land sales and pledge to keep the vast majority of land open for public access.
Despite clear evidence that the land transfer is a very bad idea, John Swallow, the newly elected Utah Attorney General, has threatened to make pursuing the federal land-grab a major focus of his term in office.
Lake Powell pipeline too costly
Speaking of bad ideas, even the Utah Legislature isn’t convinced it’s a good plan to earmark $2 billion of Utah tax dollars so that people in St. George (who are currently even more wasteful per-capita water users than people in Las Vegas) can have green lawns. Advocates of the pipeline wanted to finance it with statewide sales tax revenue, claiming that Southern Utah water users would be able to pay back the money, but economists from the University of Utah estimate that the annual price tag would be over $40 million per year for decades to come. In November the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee turned down the request for public funds.
Meanwhile, on November 20, the US and Mexico signed a historic agreement to share Colorado River water with Mexico that allocates water to restore the health of the Colorado River delta in the Gulf of California. Currently the Colorado River dries up 60 miles inland from the sea.
Bureau of Reclamation approves Gooseberry dam
Bad ideas for water development never die. In November the Bureau of Reclamation released a Final Environmental Impact Statement with the preferred alternative of building the Gooseberry Narrows dam in Sanpete County even though, as Trout Unlimited pointed out in a comment letter, “There are good reasons that this project, some 70 years in the making, has never been built, and all those reasons attach with even greater force today.” The primary beneficiaries of the $50 million water boondoggle are 250 farmers in Sanpete County who could raise a third crop of alfalfa (and who apparently believe it is unfair that snow falling in Sanpete County follows a natural drainage into the Price River in Carbon County). Not only would the project destroy a blue ribbon trout stream and riparian wildlife habitat, it would result in chronic water shortages for people in Helper and Price. The Utah Rivers Council is raising money for a possible legal battle and asks you to contact your congressman to oppose the project.
Tar Sands People’s EIS
As protesters in Texas strive to block the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline, Utah activists gathered in solidarity at the Salt lake City Bureau of Land Management office trying to stop BLM from leasing 830,000 acres for tar sands strip mining in Utah. The protesters (including a scary Tar Sands Monster) delivered a “People’s Environmental Impact Statement” to oppose tar sands development that would be destructive to human health, Utah’s environment and the state’s economic wellbeing.