For most of last year, the fate of two sage grouse leks in Morgan County in northern Utah was in doubt. A lek is sage grouse breeding habitat, where the sage grouse dance their unique and amazing courtship display.
Three times, beginning last year, landowners of several properties in Morgan County, totaling 2,600 acres, tried to get the rules changed to enable them to sell their property to developers who have drawn up plans to put up a gigantic complex of condos and resorts, which would inevitably have spelled doom for the sage grouse leks and for the surrounding habitat.
The Morgan County Council rejects a destructive proposal
The land in question has never been zoned for development, so several steps would have been required to enable these plans to go forward: first, officially changing the designation of the land, then, as a second step, changing the zoning itself. These steps would have paved the way for the land to then be sold to developers.
Last Tuesday, on March 17, 2015, in a Morgan County Council meeting packed full of residents who opposed these land designation changes, the Morgan County Council rejected the appeal of the landowners, declining to approve a land designation change, thereby stalling the process that would have led to massive construction, with heavy equipment driving back and forth, in and around the peaceful areas of the sage grouse leks. Hopefully, this has put a definitive end to these misguided plans.
The Sage Grouse, who are in fact an endangered species, though they have not been listed on the Endangered Species list, were just one among several very valid reasons put forward by Morgan County residents. Utah residents, one after another spoke up, expressing their wish to preserve the character and natural beauty of the land on which they live. These Utahns did not want to see the county they live in devastated by the upheavals that major development would bring and the harm that would be done to their own way of life.
It is important to note that, with this decision by the Morgan County Council, no property rights are being taken away from land owners. These lands have always been set aside as not for development, and that has remained exactly the same.
Nature is good for people as well as for wildlife
As well as being of benefit to wildlife and the natural world, preserving the integrity of Utah’s wild places is in the vital interests of the people of Utah. Nature and wilderness are an intrinsic aspect of life as we know it in Utah.
After all, how many of us who are accustomed to the peace of a rural or small-town way of life, would choose to live in downtown Los Angeles? It may be worth recalling that around 200 years ago, the vast area of steel, concrete, and glass that is now LA was, at that time, pristine wildlife habitat filled with an abundance of birds, plants, and animals. Now they are all gone.
Today, two hundred years are no longer required to transform a natural landscape into a nightmare of traffic jams and polluted skies – a couple of decades will do just fine — but that is not what we wish to have happen in Utah.
Utah is a state blessed with some of the most majestic natural lands in the world, with forests and mountains where wild animals, birds, and native plants live. Utahns value their way of life and do not wish to see their state overrun by a wave of destruction.
Thank you to the Morgan County Council for this wise decision to preserve protections which have always been in place for these wild lands. This benefits the people, as well as the birds and animals, who live in this beautiful area.
And thank you to all the people of Morgan County and other Utah residents who spoke up for their right to continue to live a way of life that is immeasurably blessed by its proximity to the natural world.
© 2015, text and images, Coalition for American Wildbirds