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A natural stream in the Uinta Wilderness, in an area where there is no sheep grazing.

 

The Uintas Mountains run through northern Utah, south of the Wyoming border. In the center is the High Uintas Wilderness, where the highest peaks rise.

 

The Ashley Forest and the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache Forest are being severely damaged by the grazing of domestic sheep. The Forest Service is now thinking about allowing sheep grazing to continue in these Wildnerness areas.

 

Unlike Bighorn sheep, domestic sheep are not native; they are farm animals. They do not belong on this Wilderness land, which is meant to be wild. The grazing of thousands of domestic sheep destroys the habitat for wolves, cougars, bears, and wolverines – and the rest of the eco-system. The plant life is harmed along with streams and rivers, and trees disappear. The Wilderness then is no longer wilderness in any true sense of the word.

 

These wild forest areas need to be restored and renewed, and this can only happen if the grazing of sheep in these forests is halted. Please send an email before April 23 asking the Forest Service to end the grazing of domestic sheep on these beautiful, sensitive wild lands. There is a sample email below. – Editor

 

Domestic sheep grazing threatens Utah Wilderness

 

By Dr. John Carter,

Manager,

Yellowstone to Uintas Connection

High Uintas Domestic Sheep Grazing – In May, 2014, the Forest Service released a scoping letter to reauthorize grazing by 12,850 ewe/lamb pairs of domestic sheep on ten allotments covering 156,950 acres of the Wilderness, closer to 170,000 acres if the adjacent West Fork Black’s Fork allotment were to be included, which we have requested, since it is also used as a sheep driveway.

This means that between 25,700 and 38,550 sheep actually are permitted to graze, depending on the number of ewes with single or twin lambs. We submitted initial scoping comments in June, detailed comments in July followed by supplemental comments addressing wilderness issues. Important issues we are addressing include bighorn sheep, Canada lynx, cutthroat trout, watershed health and recreational impacts. Bighorn sheep historically occupied the Uintas, but are killed by disease, particularly pneumonia, transmitted from domestic sheep.

 

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A Uintas Wilderness stream damaged by sheep grazing.

 

Canada lynx historically occupied the Uintas and have been documented recently as radio collared lynx from reintroductions in Colorado moved into the Uintas and north, following the historic corridor we address (see below).

 

Much of Utah’s water supply also depends on the watersheds in the Uinta Mountains, which are heavily degraded and losing their storage capacity due to loss of ground covering vegetation from sheep grazing. Sediment from eroding watersheds impairs spawning habitat for cutthroat trout and is accelerating the filling in of the lakes in these areas.

 

We, with the assistance of our akitas – who carried food, camp gear and equipment, spent many years documenting the damage to wilderness values here. A powerpoint presentation of some of that effort is available for viewing or download. We prepared and submitted a report to the Forest Service with data, analysis and photo-documentation of the damage.  The Forest Service has been unable or unwilling to acknowledge the damage as they move monitoring locations to avoid those most damaged while blaming gophers and other causes for the barren soil and erosion.

 

We have organized a coalition of concerned organizations and individuals and have met with the Regional Forester’s Office, the Forest Supervisor for the Uinta Wasatch Cache National Forest and the Supervisor of the Ashley National Forest to discuss our concerns and obtain their Bighorn Sheep Risk Analysis, which has become a political hot potato due to allotment closures in the Payette National Forest. We are obtaining agency data for analysis and further comment as we press for removal of domestic sheep from the wilderness. Most recently we submitted additional scoping comments to meet a December 2015 deadline.  The Forest Service has again opened a scoping period and those scoping comments are due on April 23. The Gallatin Wildlife Association has submitted its comments for this scoping period and those were excellent comments.

 

John Carter, Manager

Yellowstone to Uintas Connection

PO Box 62

Paris, Idaho 83261

435-881-5404

Y2uconn@hughes.net

www.yellowstoneuintas.org

 

Sample email re sheep-grazing in Uintas

Comments are due April 23, 2016.   Please send an email or letter to the Forest Service expressing your opposition to continued domestic sheep grazing in the Wilderness.  Here is a sample email, which you may send as is, or you may add your own thoughts. Many thanks!

 

Dave Whittekiend, Supervisor

dwhittekiend@fs.fed.us

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

857 West South Jordan Parkway

South Jordan, UT 84095

 

Re:  Uintas Domestic Sheep

 

Dear Supervisor Whittekiend:

 

Please issue a decision discontinuing domestic sheep grazing in the Uinta Wilderness.  In addition to the 10 allotments named in your February 16, 2016 scoping letter, we urge you to issue a decision also closing the West Fork Black’s Fork to continued grazing. Domestic sheep are impairing our watersheds and water supply, creating accelerated erosion, degrading fish and wildlife habitat and are a threat to bighorn sheep, and other wildlife who historically depended on this area. People who travel to this area to experience the wilderness are met with tens of thousands of sheep, smells of sheep, their noise and threatening guard dogs. You can end this conflict by retiring these allotments.

 

Thank you for your consideration,

 

Your signature.

 

Photos: Dr. John Carter / Grazed and ungrazed streams in the Uintas Wilderness.

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Marian Hussenbux,

Animal Interfaith Alliance,

www.animal-interfaith-alliance.com

Faiths Working Together for Animals,

based in the U.K.,

has sent this email to Senator Okerland, at rokerlund@le.utah.gov.

Dear Senator Ralph Okerlund,

I write on behalf of The Animal Interfaith Alliance, an international alliance of faith groups founded in Britain concerned about the welfare of animals. Our member organisations and individual members include Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. We are all united by our common concern for animals, based on our various faiths.

Though we are of course not constituents of yours, we are writing in support of American campaigners to ask you to vote against SB0246 and to oppose the building of, and any funding for, a coal port in Oakland, California – and any related infrastructure.

We agree with local residents concerned about this proposal that a California port to export Utah coal, fossil fuels, minerals, or other products extracted from the ground is not in the best interest of Utah residents and taxpayers.

The coal industry is clearly proven to be a cause of great pollution – to the air, to streams and lakes, and adversely affecting animals, plants, and human beings.

To sum up, coal and fossil fuel industrialization is profoundly destructive to the environment and long term interests of all who inhabit the planet.

We are told by state residents that Utah is one of the few last remaining places on earth where one may find pristine, wild natural lands. No other place surpasses the majestic beauty of your national parks and monuments, and your public lands.

Surely you have an obligation to protect these precious lands far into the future.

The tourism and recreation industries are the backbone of your economy. Unlike coal, they are not short-term investments which leave behind unattractive wastelands dead to all life.

Please reflect on the unique and irreplaceable beauty of Utah’s wild lands and vote against SB0246.

Kindest regards,

Marian.

 

Photo: Sharon St Joan

For more information about SB246 and the Oakland coal port, click here.

 

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Utah bill SB246, introduced in the final days of the legislative session, would provide $53 million, from Utah funds, to go toward the building of a coal port, along with accompanying infrastructure, in Oakland, California, so that Utah coal, other fossil fuels, and other products can be shipped to California, then on to foreign markets. This would help prop up Utah’s struggling coal industry, but would lead to more irreparable damage to Utah’s wild lands and eco-systems.

 

Many thanks to Lindsay Beebe – the Organizing Representative, in Salt Lake City, of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign for sending their Fact Sheet on SB246, as well as this link to their on-line message to send to your Utah representative.

 

To sign and send the Sierra Club’s message opposing the SB246 bill, click here.

 

The Sierra Club Fact Sheet on SB246:

SB 246: GAMBLING WITH TAXPAYER MONEY ON A RISKY BET

  1. Because the coal export market is disappearing, SB 246 is a bad gamble for Utah taxpayers.
  • This $53 million loan is a bad investment that instead of producing good jobs for the people of Utah, could end up leaving taxpayers holding the bag as the bankruptcies and the contraction of the international coal market continue. A July 2013 analysis by Goldman Sachs specifically labeled coal export terminals “a bad investment.”
  • A Goldman Sachs 2015 analysis said, “Peak coal is here.” The analysis predicted a continuing decline in coal prices and that they will never recover. “The industry does not require new investment given the ability of existing assets to satisfy flat demand, so prices will remain under pressure as the deflationary cycle continues.”
  • More recently, Andy Roberts, a mining engineer and an expert on the economics of coal, released an analysis February 10 (aimed primarily at port projects in Washington state) concluding that U.S. coal ports have gone from “vital to irrelevant” given the precipitous drop in demand from Asia. Western coal producers can’t compete with Indonesian producers on price in what is a disappearing market.
  • The U.S. Energy Information Agency recently reported that U.S. coal exports fell 22% in the first three quarters of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.
  • China announced last week that it is closing more than 1,000 coal mines due to a “price-sapping supply glut” and the government has suspended the approval of new coal mines to clean up dangerous air pollution across the country. Given the supply glut, Chinese imports are likely to continue their steep decline.
  • The American coal industry is in deep trouble. Among the companies declaring bankruptcy are Arch Coal, the nation’s second largest coal company, and 50 other coal-mining companies. Any state that is counting on coal for future jobs and a strong economy is making a risky gamble. Bowie Resources, which owns a coal mine whose potential exports SB 246 is intended to subsidize, recently idled its Colorado mine due to “deteriorating market conditions.”
  • Although Governor Herbert has been quoted as saying “This is an investment …. You invest $50 million and you’re going to get back three or four times your investment,” such a rosy outcome is extremely unlikely. If this loan would guarantee 300% to 400% return, coal companies or private capital would be lined up to invest in the terminal. The lack of private investment suggests that this project is highly risky, and one that only could be accomplished by tapping taxpayers’ wallets. Tapping public funds to support a private development that can’t attract private funding is simply a subsidy, not the “free market” at work.
  • Coal export facilities are generally a speculative and risky gamble. In recent decades, coal export terminals have gone bust in Los Angeles and Portland, leaving taxpayers and investors on the hook for tens of millions of dollars.
  • Governor Herbert’s own strategic plan for energy concluded in 2014 that there Utah had only 10 years of proven coal reserves at current production rates.

 

  1. SB 246 will likely not cure the illegal transfer of funds from the Community Impact Board for an out-of-state construction project.
  • The purpose of the bill is to move $53 million from the CIB, and spend $53 million on the coal terminal in California. This is a transparent ploy to launder CIB funds to pay for a construction project in California that has nothing to do with mitigating the impacts of fossil fuel development in impacted counties in Utah. As such, this bill has likely violated the same federal laws as the CIB’s April 2015 loan approval that has been stalled for months as it is reviewed by Utah’s attorney general. Those laws require CIB funds to be spent in Utah counties on public projects that mitigate the impacts of federal fossil fuel leasing. Subsidizing construction of an export facility in California, however those funds are laundered, violates those laws.
  • If the Attorney General’s review concluded that the April 2015 CIB loan is legal, why is this bill necessary? The Attorney General should release his review before this bill is considered so the public can understand whether the loan is illegal.

 

  1. Opposition in California means there is significant political risk to any Utah loan.
  • The Oakland City Council is considering legislation restricting coal exports through Oakland. There is likely to be a vote on that legislation this Spring. Such an outcome could render worthless Utah’s investment.
  • The California legislature also has before it four bills that would restrict coal exports through Oakland and California, further raising the political risk that Utah will see no return on any investment in the terminal.
  • 76 percent of Oakland voters oppose building the coal terminal at the port.
  • Beyond environmental groups and public health organizations, even some faith groups have united to oppose construction of the port project.
  • The Port of Oakland rejected a proposal for a coal terminal in 2014; concerns about the terminal have only increased since then.

 

  1. The public deserves a chance to fully consider this complex proposal, rather than have it rammed through at the end of the legislative session with little consideration.
  • The introduction of this bill so late in the session gives the public little or no opportunity to raise legitimate questions on the appropriateness of giving a $53 million loan of taxpayers’ money to an ill-considered California project. It appears to be an attempt to sneak through a controversial scheme at the last minute.
  • Additional consideration of the bill is warranted because its convoluted funding mechanism makes it difficult to tell how it will impact transportation and other funding across the state.

 

3/2/2016

 

 

Photo: Sharon St Joan

 

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This email was sent by Sharon St Joan to Utah Senator Ralph Okerland, at 

rokerlund@le.utah.gov.   For more on this bill and sending an email, see below.

 

Dear Senator Okerlund,

 

I am writing to ask you to vote against SB0246 and to oppose the building of, and any funding for, a coal port in Oakland, California – and any related infrastructure.

 

A California port to export Utah coal, fossil fuels, minerals, or other products extracted from the ground is not in the best interest of Utah residents and taxpayers.

 

No one denies that the coal industry is a polluting industry – causing harm to the air that we breathe, to streams and lakes, to animals, plants, and human beings.

 

Coal and fossil fuel industrialization is profoundly destructive to our environment, our health, our economy, and to the long-term interests of all of us.

 

Utah is one of the few last remaining places on earth where one may find pristine, wild natural lands. No other place surpasses the majestic beauty of our national parks and monuments, and all our public lands. We have an obligation to protect these lands far into the future. They are also the foundation of the near and long-term economic prosperity of Utah.

 

Tourists do not come from around the world to visit coal mines, and the tourism and recreation industries are the backbone our economy. Unlike coal, they are not short-term, dying investments which leave behind unattractive wastelands.

 

The proposed California coal port and the infrastructure that would accompany it threaten everything that Utah stands for  — our western wilderness heritage, our prosperity, our long-term well-being, and the unique, unsurpassed and irreplaceable beauty of Utah’s wild lands.  Please vote against it.

 

Thank you.

 

Sincerely,

 

Sharon St Joan

Kanab, Utah resident

 

For more on the issue of SB246 that would use Utah funding to construct an Oakland California coal port, click here.

The bill was introduced just days ago, giving almost no time for comments. The legislative session ends this Thursday, March 10, 2016.

If you wish to send an email, you may send this one, as is, or with any changes you wish to make. Many thanks!

Photo: Sharon St Joan

 

 

 

 

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The email below was sent by JoAnne Rando-Moon to Utah Senator Okerlund to oppose bill SB246, which would use Utah money to fund building a coal port in Oakland, California for the export of Utah coal and other products overseas. This would likely lead to more coal expansion in Utah, with detrimental consequences to Utah’s wildlife, wild lands, and way of life. It is followed by Senator Okerlund’s reply. 

 

This bill was just introduced over the past few days into the Utah legislature, which will end its session this Thursday, March 10, 2016, leaving almost no time, if any, to write in opposition to the bill.

 

To send an email on this issue to Senator Okerlund, the Utah Senator for Kane County, his email address is rokerlund@le.utah.gov

 

For other Utah senators, click here.  

 

Email sent to Senator Okerlund:

 

Senator Okerlund,

 

As a resident of Kane County, Utah, I am completely opposed to SB 246, spending millions of tax payer dollars to ship coal to Oakland, CA for export. San Francisco Bay and Oakland residents overwhelmingly oppose the Oakland coal port!

 

Coal is a very dirty industry, disrupting the natural beauty of Utah. We have so many who visit our beautiful state and they are NOT spending their money to see coal trucks race up and down our narrow corridors, especially from the Alton Coal Mine!!!!!

 

They are here to see Bryce Canyon National Park, bike, hike and photograph the beauty that surrounds them. The machinery and lights from Alton Coal Mine run all night long disturbing residents and wildlife alike. I have witnessed it first hand when I worked with the Grand to Grand Ultra race. We had almost one hundred international athletes and volunteers from all over the world camping on private land in Alton to finish the 170 mile self-supported race near Powell Point. Throughout the night the machines hammered away! It was shocking to see the destruction from the previous year when the pastures were pristine on the adjacent land.

 

Please vote AGAINST SB246.

 

Thank you,

 

JoAnne Rando-Moon

 

Kanab, UT

 

 

Senator Okerlund’s reply:

 

JoAnne,

 

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about SB 246.  I appreciate the things you have highlighted, but I do want to provide the other side of this bill. This bill is more than a coal transportation bill. By passing this bill, Utah would be able to ship goods overseas. For my District it would enable the transfer of salt, pot ash, agriculture products, and iron. This would allow for significant economic development within my district. Because of that, I think we need to look into this legislation further considering the potential benefit it can provide. But

 

With that being said, I value what you have relayed to me. I think in all pieces of legislation we must see the issue from as many angles as possible. I will keep your words in mind and will consider all the consequences, both negative and positive as we continue to vet this bill.

 

All my best,

 

Senator Okerlund

 

 

Photo: Sharon St Joan

 

 

 

 

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By Kirk Robinson,

Executive Director of Western Wildlife Conservancy, and

Advisor to the Coalition for All Wildlife

 

Wildlife advocacy and political activism require us to make a moral commitment to the goals of conservation. Unfortunately, the choices are not always easy ones because moral ideals often conflict and we must choose between them or settle for doing nothing. But that’s often how it is with moral issues. If choices were always obvious and easy, they wouldn’t demand much of us, and we would be much the less for it.

The reason I bring this up is because the wild animals that I (we) care about and are trying to protect and conserve are frequently killed by people who hate them or value them only as trophies, which raises the question whether we should even try to recover or protect them. This is particularly the case with the Mexican wolf because it is a subspecies of wolf that is languishing under the feckless stewardship of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Nothing significant has yet been done to further the recovery of the Mexican wolf without a law suit brought by conservation organizations. And of course a big part of the reason for this is the pushback from the states that don’t want wolves, period, never mind the Endangered Species Act. This is because the western states are dominated politically by the mindless traditional view that all native predators have to be either eliminated or strictly controlled by lethal means.

So what are we to do about this? When Western Wildlife Conservancy first started 20 years ago (then called the Utah Cougar Coalition), my charge from the board (which I inherited) was to end cougar hunting in Utah within one year. Well, of course that didn’t happen. Nor was it even politically possible. Fortunately, while members of the board conspired to try to remove me, the bylaws that they themselves adopted made that difficult, and instead they resigned one by one, allowing me to choose a new board that understood the political realities of carnivore conservation. The original members of the board had good hearts, but were clueless about what it would actually take to get the job done and weren’t up to the task of developing a long term strategy and sticking with it. Furthermore, they had no understanding of ecology and the way in which species, as members of communities of organisms, depend upon each other: their mutual thriving is a matter of mutual dependence; the good of each is dependent upon the good of all (considered as members of species). They loved animals, but they lacked this critical perspective.

What about the Mexican wolf? Human beings drove it nearly to extinction, leaving only seven of them to become founders of a recovery effort. Canis lupus baileyi was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act way back in 1976 and recovery efforts began 18 years ago with reintroductions into the wild.

After many years of slow growth, then population stagnation, there was a short run of years in which the population in the wild grew – reaching 110 at the end of 2014. But this only happened because of law suits. As of now the count is down to 97 – a 12% decline. There were eleven known deaths, plus two more that were apparently due to trauma from capture by FWS (wolves are periodically captured for various reasons, such as to fit them with radio collars), and probably a few others that we don’t know about, as there were several “missing” wolves. The point is that a lot of these wolves are being illegally killed (and a few unintentionally killed), which is in turn causing some deaths of pups (pup survival was greatly reduced this last year). Thus, one might well ask – and I think we really should ask – whether it is ethically proper for us to continue the Mexican wolf recovery effort. (I want to emphasize that these killings are not properly called poachings. That’s what you call killing a deer out of season or without a license. We’re talking here about malicious killings by people who would be happy to wipe out all wolves if they could.)

Individual wolves count. Their lives count. They are conscious, intelligent, emotional beings in their own right. So why should we continue to release captive individuals into the wild if they stand a serious chance of being killed by an ignorant yahoo? It is a fair question to ask – never mind that recovery is mandated by the ESA.

I understand and appreciate the dilemma – both horns of it: either we continue the effort to recover the Mexican wolf or it will go extinct. Neither of these options is attractive and there is no third option. Thus, each of us must choose for ourselves where we stand. Obviously, I am for continuing the effort with determination and passion. I believe we have a duty to do so. But that is my judgment. You might disagree.

This doesn’t mean that I am content to allow the recovery effort to plod along or to just accept the illegal killings. Far from it. What we want is not just conservation, but compassionate conservation. Indeed, this is a whole new field that has opened up in the last five years or so. And in the case of the Mexican wolf, what it means is that we have to pressure the Fish and Wildlife Service to do more to prevent the illegal killings of Mexican wolves, and not only to release more captive wolves into the wild. What we want in the end is a genetically viable, self-sustaining, and ecologically functional population of wolves that human beings simply leave alone.

Among other things, I believe this means that they must retrieve radio receivers that FWS handed out to ranchers living in the vicinity of Mexican wolves, which they can use to learn the whereabouts of wolves. The FWS originally gave several ranchers receivers because they thought it would make them less hostile to the recovery effort if they could avoid moving their livestock into areas where wolves are present. While we don’t know for certain that this has enabled illegal wolf killings, it clearly places wolves at greater risk. Thus, many of us believe that it would be prudent to take the receivers away.

Another thing the federal government could do is invest more in finding and capturing and prosecuting the law breakers. Of course, resources are limited, making this difficult. And resources are limited because the livestock lobby is so very powerful – never mind that only about 2% of national beef production comes from the arid western states. The Republicans in Congress – Utah’s Congressman Bishop being a prime example – are passionately committed to doing all they can to make the Endangered Species Act ineffective. That’s just the truth and is not meant to be partisan.

We live in a democracy – supposedly. What this means is that we citizens have the ultimate responsibility to make it work properly and to change the status quo when it needs changing. Otherwise we might as well live under a monarchy or theocracy or dictatorship of some sort, where we only have to obey. My view, therefore, is that it is up to us citizens to bring about improvements in wildlife conservation and management, and in other areas of civil life. We can’t just leave it to the government or to the good will of people who lack good will. If we are unwilling to rise to this challenge, then probably the best thing would be for us to just admit it to ourselves and give up. I am not willing to do this, so the alternative for me is to keep going no matter what obstacles are thrown up by the obstructionists.

I am not willing to give up, not just because I am stubborn – though maybe I am that too – but because, wildlife conservation aside, I want democracy to succeed and believe it is partly my responsibility to make it succeed. And to be perfectly frank about it, though this admission might strike some as a display of the utmost arrogance, I hold myself in high esteem and regard it as beneath my dignity as a human being to allow myself such an easy out. I won’t settle for a life of ignorance and complacency. And you shouldn’t either.

A great extinction is underway – the sixth major one in Earth history, the last one having occurred approximately 65 million years ago. The difference is that that one was mainly due to an asteroid colliding with Earth, while this one is entirely due to us – a very young species on Earth as far as that goes. For all our noontime brilliance (and, as a species we have demonstrated great brilliance), we are in the process of destroying all that is good. The world we are rapidly creating is one that by the end of the 21st Century, if nothing changes, will be devoid of most large-bodies species living in the wild, both on land and in the sea, and absent any truly wild places.

I recently finished a new book, published just this year, titled “The Society of Genes.” The first chapter of this book explains in very clear terms how cancers develop. The development always goes through eight stages serially. Maybe the same is true of life on Earth, with the great extinctions marking the stages. When human beings are through with the Earth, the way things are going, it not only will be devoid of all the glorious species that have evolved over the eons, but it won’t afford a life worth living for human beings either. That will essentially be the death of the planet. Maybe new biodiversity will evolve in the subsequent 50-100 million years (it will take about that long), but one can only hope that the big evolutionary dead-end of primates with big brains that they don’t know how to use won’t be repeated.

Okay, granted, the scenario I just described doesn’t have to play out. But it is a virtual certainty unless we make sure it doesn’t. And doing this will require three things of us besides our big brains: thoughtful moral vision, self-determination, and courage.

 

Photo: Jim Clark, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons / “This image or recording is the work of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.”/ A captive Mexican wolf at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

 

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By Sharon St Joan

 

To send an email to help protect Kane County, Utah, from the harm of coal mine expansion, please see the email instructions at the end.

 

Does Kane County, Utah, need more coal?

 

Do we need for the Alton Coal Mine to expand to nearly four times its current size on to public lands?

 

A proposal to lease Bureau of Land Management public lands in Kane County to be used for the expansion of the Alton Coal Mine, has been under consideration for eight years and is now about to be finalized by the BLM. It will then be sent on to the Utah State BLM, and then to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for approval.

 

A few reasons why we don’t need a bigger coal mine in Kane County:

 

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One) The natural beauty of Kane County. Kane County, Utah, is – without any exaggeration – one of the most beautiful, unspoiled, magnificent places in the entire world. Millions of tourists come here each year. Three million just to see Zion National Park alone – with many more coming to visit Bryce Canyon or to stand in awe of the towering red cliffs that line the roadways, or gaze at the intricate, mysterious rock formations that appear magically at almost every turn. The Alton Coal Mine, just a few miles south of Bryce Canyon, does strip mining, which completely destroys all the surface of the land – eradicating rocks, trees, wildlife habitat, and every blade of grass. Nothing is left in the wake of these destructive machines. This is a destruction of the natural land, and it is the natural land that is the essence of the unsurpassed beauty of Kane County.

 

Two) An economy based on tourism. The economy of Kane County relies on tourism. Every motel, every restaurant, tour guide company, gas station, grocery store, and virtually every business is dependent directly or indirectly on tourism. Anything that impacts the natural beauty of Kane County will automatically undermine tourism and the local economy.

 

Three) Jobs. The number of jobs that would be created by the expansion of the Alton Coal Mine is miniscule compared to the number of jobs now being created by the tourism industry in Kane County. The revenue in the state of Utah generated by the coal industry is dwarfed by the state’s income from tourism, which is by far the largest source of revenue for the State of Utah. Our economy and our way of life are linked to the beauty of Utah lands and the numbers of visitors who flock to this state.

 

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Four) Setting a precedent. An expansion of the Alton Coal Mine to nearly four times its current size would greatly magnify the harmful effects of the coal mine. Most alarmingly, it could set a precedent for the future. In the state of Utah and in surrounding states there is a current escalation of proposals and plans to industrialize Bureau of Land Management land – with, for example, special interest groups seeking to set up uranium mines around the Grand Canyon and others looking into oil, gas, and potash drilling and mining on around 785,000 acres in the Moab area. With new advances in technology, there may soon be greater and greater pressure to extract from every inch of public land every last remaining ounce of fossil fuels or minerals. Once these lands are destroyed, then they are gone – along with the wildlife, the trees, and the magnificent cliffs that once were there.

 

Five) Reclamation of the land? In the case of the Alton Coal Mine proposed expansion, plans allow for the reclaiming of the land. It is stated that the land will be mined for 25 years, then it will be reclaimed over the next 15 years, and some of this reclamation will happen concurrently. This means that we are to believe – given the current uncertainties and turmoil of the world we live in and the impossibility of predicting the future of the global economy – that twenty-five years from now, after the total and complete destruction of the land — that a for-profit coal company, which may or may not still be in business, will then spend the next fifteen years, with no additional revenue, putting back together again the land that it has destroyed. Even if this were likely, which it isn’t, forty years is a long time, and most of us would not live to see the reclamation of this land. The wildlife and the habitat that they lived on peacefully will long be gone. The unique crusty soil on some of this land, which nature has built up over hundreds of years, can never be restored – and this means the land would be forever vulnerable to increased impacts from drought because the soil would no longer retain water.

 

Six) The fate of the sage grouse. Sage grouse are spectacular, ground-dwelling birds, similar to quail, that once lived on the sage brush lands of the American West in the millions. Now 98 per cent of their population has gone; they are hanging on and at risk of extinction. The proposed coal mine development would expand on to land that is their southernmost habitat. Their population is already fragile; they have already been displaced by the current coal mine, and virtually everyone acknowledges that there is no certainty at all that they can survive further stress. They should, by right, have been placed on the Endangered Species List. They were not because of an agreement entered into by eleven western states, including Utah, to protect and preserve their habitat. However, expanding a coal mine on to fragile habitat definitely does not constitute protection and does not abide by the spirit of this agreement. Following public comments that expressed great concern about the fate of the sage grouse, some modifications in the original coal mine expansion plan have been made. With a little common sense, though, it is fairly easy to grasp the fact that – for a sensitive bird that lives on the ground and flies only short distances – the 24 hour a day deafening noise of coal machinery, along with flashing lights and occasional explosive charges, simply is not and cannot be a viable habitat. These already severely threatened birds will not survive the intrusive activity of a coal mine being built on their habitat. Destroying the home of what should, by any logic, be a federally-protected species violates the intent of American wildlife law.

 

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Seven) Other wildlife. Other wildlife have already been displaced and disturbed by the existing coal mine, and this impact will be multiplied many times if there is further coal expansion. Right now, on the road that goes past the mine, huge coal trucks, even when they are empty, kick up great clouds of dust behind them, extending for a couple of miles and leaving a coating of dirt on roadside plants. This destroys the vegetation and the food for deer and birds. It has been estimated that 300 coal trucks a day could be on the roads, if this expansion goes ahead. This area is part of a wildlife corridor, that extends from Mexico through Arizona, Utah, and further north up to Canada. It is a wildlife corridor that should be reconnected, not further segmented, so that the wildlife which historically belong in this area can once again live and move in freedom.

 

Eight) Destruction of trees. Ironically, several miles of juniper and pinion trees are being systematically ground up on this site, leaving an unsightly graveyard of splintered trees. This is being done in order to create new sage grouse habitat, and, admittedly, there is some scientific reasoning behind this. However, what is ironic is that new habitat is being created for sage grouse because they are being deprived, by a coal mine, of their traditional habitat. If there were no threat of coal mine expansion, there would be no need to replace their current habitat or disrupt their lives. Instead of living trees, which were the habitat of deer, elk, rabbits, small creatures, and all the other living beings there, and which put oxygen into the air as all trees do, there is now a wasteland of decaying trees releasing toxic carbon emissions into the air. The argument that juniper/pinion trees have expanded their range over the last sixty years and therefore they should be trimmed back, seems a weak one, since, surely, the range of all plants may naturally vary over time. Cutting down every tree does not seem right, and there would be no reason to do this at all were it not for man-made destruction, across the prairie lands of the west, that has caused the loss of sage brush, which is the sage grouse habitat. Building and expanding coal plants simply exacerbates this loss of much-needed natural habitat.

 

Nine) Pollution. No one is in any doubt that coal mines produce pollution. Leaving aside all questions of climate change, coal dust in the air contaminates the air that we are breathing right now. It harms our health. It also harms the vegetation, the animals, and all the water nearby. There are countless small streams and creeks in this area, including Kanab Creek, from which the city of Kanab gets its water. Any level of coal dust is a contaminant and threatens the health of humans in nearby towns and downstream areas. It also undermines the health and well-being of every bird and animal in the area, as well as all the plants and wildflowers. The plants are food for animals as well as an essential part of the natural beauty of this area.

 

Ten) A need for coal? The coal from the Alton Mine currently goes to Delta, Utah, and then on to California. California will soon be ending the importation of coal products, and a new market will be needed. This market may be anywhere, perhaps in China, or perhaps, since there is no port in Utah, finding a new market may be unrealistically expensive. In any case, the coal does not, and will not in the future, benefit anyone in Kane County, and it should stay in the ground – preserving the magnificent natural beauty of this area.

 

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Eleven) Our way of life. Those of us who are blessed to live here, who wake up every morning and look out to see the breathtaking views of red cliffs, birds, and natural wonders, are grateful to be here. Sometimes, we may assume that this abundance of nature will always be here, untouched and unthreatened. At moments when we may take our way of life for granted, we might recall other places in the U.S., which once, not so long ago, where also beautiful – for example, tribal lands in North Dakota, where there has been an oil boom – first welcomed as a promise of prosperity, now decried because the rivers have turned a toxic orange color, and if one puts one’s hand under a tree, one can feel that the leaves there are oily. The wildlife are gone. What was once a forest filled with life is now a desolate wasteland. This story is not unique, it is repeated in far too many states and counties, where industrialization that seemed to offer a bright future, has instead brought unexpected disaster.

 

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12) A word to the Secretary of the Interior and to the BLM. As residents of Kane County, Utah, and American citizens, we are opposed to the desecration of public lands that the Alton Coal Mine Expansion would bring. We ask you to reject this proposed coal expansion in the interests of safeguarding our way of life, protecting the economy of Kane County, and preserving the scenic beauty of this area that draws visitors from all over the world – as well as permitting the sage grouse and all the wildlife who have their homes here to live out their natural lives in peace, unthreatened and undisturbed.

 

To send an email –

 

First pick one or two of the above issues. You may use the words here, if you wish, but it will be more effective if you put what you feel into your own words.

 

Write a brief, polite email – one or two hundred words. Send it to Secretary Jewel, Secretary of the Interior.

 

If you have time to do more, then send it to President Obama. Then send it to Neil Kornze, national Director of the BLM and cc all the others.

 

Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, feedback@ios.doi.gov

 

President Obama https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

 

Neil Kornze, Director of the Bureau of Land Management, director@blm.gov

 

Jenna Whitlock, Acting State Director, Utah BLM, jwhitloc@blm.gov

 

Heather Whitman, BLM District Manager, hwhitman@blm.gov

 

Harry Barber, Kanab Field Manager, hbarber@blm.gov

 

Keith Rigtrup , Kanab Field Office, ut_kanab_altoncoal@blm.gov

 

Thank you!

 

Photos: Sharon St Joan / Zion National Park