Toad Wandering

A special guest post from Grand Canyon Trust volunteer Barb Gysel (Durango, CO)
Boreal toad

Have you ever heard of the boreal toad? No? Neither had we. Photo: Andrew Mount.

“Toad!” The word we had been patiently waiting to hear excitedly popped out of the mouth of our fellow volunteer as she approached a small boulder field adjacent to Monroe Creek,  where our group of eight intrepid “toad wanderers” had been searching for the elusive boreal toad. Our troupe quickly sprang into action as the toad scuttled beneath the closest small rock. One of the volunteers from Utah’s Hogle Zoo flexed his muscles and moved five heavy rocks, probing ever deeper, to unearth our objective. After a few anxious moments, he firmly but tenderly grasped the subject of our investigation and held it aloft as though we were in elementary school “show and tell.” That’s how excited we felt! Kevin Wheeler, wildlife biologist for Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources, quickly whipped out his ruler to measure our toad, then swiped its tummy and between its toes 20 times with a cotton swab. We weren’t trying to see if it would turn into a prince, but instead to collect data for laboratory analysis. Was this toad carrying the dreaded chytrid fungus which is wreaking havoc on the toad population in this area?

Have you ever heard of the boreal toad? No? Neither had we, until we became involved with another Grand Canyon Trust volunteer project. This small amphibian is classified as a sensitive species in Utah, and unfortunately, could someday to move to the even more critical “threatened” level.  Kevin Wheeler has been passionately studying this species and collecting data about it for the last 15 years.  The apprehension on his face expressed measured happiness at finding this individual toad, but also concern about declining boreal toad numbers and increasing spread of the menacing chytrid fungus disease.  Our data would help tell more of the story for this particular mountain in southern Utah.

The author, with one of the dozen or so boreal toads volunteers found on the trip. Photo: Andrew Mount.

The author, with one of the dozen or so boreal toads volunteers found on the trip. Photo: Andrew Mount.

The volunteer composition of this trip was different from others in which we had participated. In addition to staff from Grand Canyon Trust staff and Utah Division of Wildlife, there was a contingent of staff and volunteers from Utah’s Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. The interest, knowledge, and experience of these volunteers were evident. They eagerly shared their talents and knowledge during our daily treks on Monroe Mountain.

Due to the remoteness of the drainages that comprised our study areas, our hikes were challenging. We did not hike on trails, but instead climbed up rocky creek beds, with slippery rocks and a gazillion downed trees, usually ending up in a boggy meadow – perfect boreal toad habitat! The moist terrain endowed the meadows with an abundance of wild flowers. Lavender penstemons, and magenta shooting stars dotted the meadow like random appliqués on a quilt of brilliant green reeds and grasses. Herds of little pink elephants delighted those unfamiliar with this treasure among mountain flowers.

Our view from camp, in search of the boreal toad. Photo: Andrew Mount.

Our view from camp, in search of the boreal toad. Photo: Andrew Mount.

The meditative silence of toad searching attuned our ears for the mountain meadow’s musical playlist: the harmonic and cheerful song of the robin greeting each day with a touch of joy; the ethereal melody of the hermit thrush briefly inviting us into her world; the shrill screech of the red tailed hawk soaring high up above us as she peered down, looking for a snack; the deep gurgling burble of water mud as we appealed to the boggy meadows to release our feet from their grip. Could it be a toad we heard? Oh no, the sneaky boreal toads seldom make a sound!

Are you wondering if we discovered any of these elusive amphibians? YES, we did! Nearly a dozen of them in all, including three areas where they had never been found before on Monroe Mountain. We were happy to learn they are still on Monroe Mountain, and in places where they weren’t even known to be before. Kevin assured us that our research will help their survival, and that is a great feeling.

What is not to love about experiences like these? We spent time with great and committed people, doing important work, enjoying lots of good humor, great learning, exploring and fun.

Ready to join the fun? Find the Grand Canyon Trust volunteer trip that’s right for you.

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Draw a Line in the Sand: Take Action to Protect Our Canyon Lands

Protect Greater Canyonlands“What meaning is freedom without a wilderness? …At some point, we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say: thus far, and no farther.”

— Edward Abbey, A Line in the Sand.

The story of Canyonlands National Park, and the lands that border it, is a complex tale of political horse-trading, but it’s also a story of the Wild West, of a rugged landscape, adventure, and a fierce battle to protect the soaring peaks, slickrock canyons, hoodoos, and swift rivers that have captured the imagination of millions. The mining of potash, uranium, and tar sands is planned here, and drilling for oil and gas is already rapidly changing the character of the place and the visitor experience, threatening valuable wildlife habitat, water, and air quality.

A Line in the Sand is a short animated film set to the words of Edward Abbey. But more than that, it is a call to action to protect Greater Canyonlands before it’s too late.

Click to watch:

Click to watch A Line in the Sand

Abbey’s words have always been deliberately provocative, especially when he was defending the southern Utah landscape he loved so much.

“Edward Abbey was an ardent activist for this landscape; his words breathed life into this landscape,” A Line in the Sand director Justin Clifton said. “Abbey was willing to say things that no one else would.”

The canyon, desert, and mountain wild lands around Canyonlands National Park need friends like Abbey more than ever. Developers are currently targeting the region just outside of the park for mineral development. The dirty truth is this: the Greater Canyonlands region only holds roughly a month’s worth of oil at today’s consumption rates. But it holds many lifetimes’ worth of outdoor recreation and enjoyment if protected today. By creating a new Greater Canyonlands National Monument around the national park, we can halt the threats of short-sighted energy development while protecting the Colorado River for 40 million people who live downstream.

Outdoor recreation itself generates more than $12 billion in consumer spending and directly supports more than 122,000 Utah jobs. Simply put: the outdoor recreation economy results in nearly double the revenue of oil and gas development and triple the jobs nationwide. It is an economy that is infinite, invaluable, and unlimited. This region of southeastern Utah is a veritable well of human spirit, an endless supply of recreation, solitude, wonder, and history.

What can you do?

  1. Knowledge is power. Watch the A Line in the Sand and get fired up: Hungry for more?
  2. Take action. Sign the petition asking President Obama to protect Our Canyon Lands:
  3. Share the desert love. Please share A Line in the Sand with your friends, family and online communities.

Thank you for stepping up to protect Our Canyon Lands, because it will take all of us together to protect this special place. This land is our heritage, our history, and our legacy: let’s keep it that way.

In the words of Edward Abbey, “God bless America. Let’s save some of it.”

Our Canyon Lands is a series of films with one goal: Protect the Greater Canyonlands. A Line in the Sand is the first of this series. Through these films, we hope to inspire, educate and ignite passion in our nation to understand why protecting the Greater Canyonlands region is so important. Visit to learn more.

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Cautionary Ban on Grand Canyon Uranium Claims Upheld in Federal Court

Four "zombie" uranium mines may be permitted to operate in the Grand Canyon Watershed.

Four “zombie” uranium mines may be permitted to operate in the Grand Canyon Watershed.

The Havasupai Tribe and conservation groups including the Grand Canyon Trust won a major victory in the legal battle to protect the Grand Canyon watershed last week when a federal judge in Phoenix upheld the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims across one million acres of public lands adjacent to Grand Canyon. The ban, which expires in 2032, had been challenged by private uranium prospectors and the uranium industry, who hold hundreds of existing uranium claims on public lands surrounding the natural wonder. The ruling affirms conclusions by five federal agencies, including scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, that uranium mining poses unacceptable risks to Grand Canyon’s water, wildlife, and people.

The Pine Nut Mine uranium mine, one of 4 "zombie" uranium mines in Grand Canyon's watershed. Photo: M. Tobin.

The Pine Nut Mine uranium mine, one of 4 “zombie” uranium mines in Grand Canyon’s watershed. Photo: M. Tobin.

Four existing uranium mines grandfathered in under the 2012 ban are not affected by the decision. These “zombie” mines (which shut down when uranium prices fall and rise from the grave when prices make mining profitable again) continue to threaten Grand Canyon’s watershed, including the Havasupai people’s sole source of drinking water. Here’s a map of existing claims, mines, and proposed mines.

In the Sept. 30 ruling, Judge David G. Campbell dismissed all claims by the uranium industry, stating that the Secretary of the Interior had the authority to “err on the side of caution in protecting a national treasure – Grand Canyon national park.” Federal agencies often permit mining on public lands even when long-term impacts are poorly monitored or understood. In this case, DOI concluded that existing evidence was sufficient to warrant the precautionary action—and last Tuesday Judge Campbell agreed.

Map of uranium claims, mines, and proposed mine in the Grand Canyon watershed.

[Click to Enlarge] Map of uranium claims, mines, and proposed mine in the Grand Canyon watershed.

Arizonans and all Americans won an unprecedented victory in 2012 when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the 20-year ban. Secretary Salazar said: “Time and again, we as a nation have shown that our strength comes not just from the power of our industry and technology but also from the wisdom of restraint.” The temporary ban reduces the risk of permanent harm to wildlife, water, and sites sacred to Havasupai and other native peoples in the region. It also protects our national interest, as well as the tourism economy, which welcomes 5 million visitors to the canyon each year.

The abandoned Orphan Mine, at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Hikers are advised not to drink the water in nearby Horn Creek, which is contaminated with uranium.

The abandoned Orphan Mine, at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Hikers are advised not to drink the water in nearby Horn Creek, which is contaminated with uranium.

Uranium mines threaten hundreds of the Grand Canyon seeps and springs that provide precious water to thousands of desert-dwelling species. Every new mine sacrifices cultural sites and fragments wildlife habitat, pollutingthe park with dirt roads, dust, heavy machinery, noise, off-road drilling rigs, power lines, and relentless truck traffic.

According to hydrology professor Abe Springer, “Although there is uncertainty in our understanding of the directions and magnitudes of groundwater flow in the regional aquifers…what we do know should lead us to exercise the precautionary principle of doing no additional harm. Because there is potential to harm the aquifer feeding the springs of one of the most important natural wonders of the world, and to tribes which count on the water from the aquifers as a sole source of water, it makes good sense to exercise the precautionary principle.”

The mining industry made a number of claims to overturn the ban, but now will have to appeal Campbell’s decision to the Ninth Circuit Court. The Trust will continue to intervene in defending this important legal precedent.

The Grand Canyon at sunrise; a view worth protecting.

The Grand Canyon at sunrise; a view worth protecting.

As Secretary Salazar said when declaring the 20-year ban on new uranium claims: “Every generation of Americans faces moments when we must choose between the pressures of the now and the protection of the timeless. Today, we know that we can no longer afford to turn our backs on … iconic landscapes like the Grand Canyon. … I am therefore at peace with this decision, because it is the right thing to do.” The Grand Canyon Trust shares this belief.

Please join us by signing the petition to protect the Grand Canyon watershed from zombie uranium mines.

Read Judge Campbell’s decision. Also, please see Ban on Grand Canyon Uranium Mining Upheld by Arizona Court.

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New Problems, Ancient Solutions: Native American Pavilion Offers Traditional Tools against Climate Change

Corn and other wares for sale at last year's expo.

Fresh, herbicide-free vegetables for sale at the Unity Thru Sustainability Expo in Tuba City.

Early Saturday morning, pickup trucks will file into a dusty parking lot behind the Denny’s in Tuba City, on the western edge of Northern Arizona’s vast Navajo reservation, many still with their headlights on. Tuba City has long been a hub for trade and collaboration between Native American tribes in the Colorado Plateau and, for the past three years, the red dirt lot has been the site of the popular weekly Painted Desert Farmers Market.  Hopi and Navajo farmers travel from miles around—Hardrock, Curly Valley, Redlake—to  offer corn, melon, squash, tomatoes, and other products, including local honey, in an area where fresh produce can be hard to find unless you grow it yourself. The market is at the heart of a larger effort to put traditional knowledge to work in service of sustainable  development, increasing opportunity and improving quality of life in a region that is ground zero for climate change.

“We’re a food desert,” said Alicia Tsosie, the Grand Canyon Trust Food Corps member stationed at Tuba City’s Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, who coordinates the farmers market.

The Navajo Nation covers nearly 18 million acres, larger than Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Delaware combined, but has only twelve supermarkets.

“We offer people access to a healthier option during harvest season—high quality herbicide and pesticide free food much cheaper than supermarket prices,” Tsosie said. Market vendors accept EBT and SNAP cards.

Ruby Chimerica prepares parched corn, a traditional Hopi snack.

Ruby Chimerica prepares parched corn, a traditional Hopi snack.

This week, it’s also the site of the 3rd annual Unity Thru Sustainability Expo, where community advocates and social entrepreneurs will set up traditional food booths, offer workshops on traditional farming and water conservation practices as well as green building, alternative energy, and other sustainability topics. In a region drastically affected by climate change—a freak frost last May destroyed many crops—cultural leaders and others are increasingly turning to traditional knowledge systems which have allowed tribes to live sustainably for millennia in an area that receives fewer than seven inches of rain per year.

The free Expo will include the ribbon cutting and grand opening of a new interactive Unity Thru Sustainability Learning Pavilion. The Colorado Plateau Inter Tribal Farmer Knowledge Exhibit, the pavilion’s first rotating exhibit, will showcase the traditional cultural knowledge of ten Colorado Plateau tribes whose elders and cultural experts have been gathering since 2009 to share traditional practices and collaborate to protect farming and food systems, restore watersheds, and preserve culture and sacred sites. The pavilion will include storytelling and cultural history displays as well as heirloom seed collections.

youtube sustainability

Click the image above to watch a short video.

GMO seeds are of particular concern to the traditional farming community here.

“If our traditional seeds change, we change. If our seeds die out, we die out,” Tsosie said.

Traditional farming is dwindling, and yet these drought-resistant practices, which have helped tribes thrive for generations, are perhaps the best bulwark against the impact of climate change.

With the pavilion in place, Tsosie hopes to see the farmers market expand to include  Zuni, Apache, and other neighboring farmers. At this Saturday’s farmers market, the last of the season, youngsters will heft prize vegetables over to the Youth Produce Contest table, where judges will hand down prizes for heaviest melon and largest squash, keeping traditional sustainable farming practices alive for the next generation.

veggie basketHow to get there:
3rd Annual Unity Thru Sustainability Exposition & Pavilion Grand Opening
Saturday, October 4, 2014

Unity Thru Sustainability is a partnership between eight community organizations, including the Grand Canyon Trust, spearheaded by the nonprofit Moenkopi Developers Corporation with volunteers from tribes across the Colorado Plateau.

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10,000 Tram Riders a Day: the Future of the Grand Canyon?

Renae Yellowhorse and Kevin Fedarko in KNAU's Flagstaff, Arizona studio.

Renae Yellowhorse and Kevin Fedarko on air with Tom Ashbrook on NPR’s “On Point.”

Renae Yellowhorse rose before dawn last week to make the long journey from her home near Tuba City, on the Navajo reservation, to the studios of KNAU radio in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she and nationally acclaimed author Kevin Fedarko confronted Grand Canyon tramway advocate Deswood Tome on Tom Ashbrook’s popular Boston-based National Public Radio show “On Point.”

Tome is an outgoing advisor to lame-duck Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly, who has been the sole official supporter of a contentious plan to build a mega-resort on the canyon’s rim and a gondola ride down to the bottom, where the turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River join the main-stem Colorado in the heart of the Grand Canyon. Shelly failed to qualify for reelection after coming in sixth in the August primary.

Save the Confluence, a coalition of local Navajo families, opposes the proposed tramway.

Save the Confluence, a coalition of local Navajo families, opposes the proposed tramway.

For more than two years, Ms. Yellowhorse and members of Save the Confluence, a coalition of local Navajo families, have vocally opposed the plan and the Scottsdale-based developer’s divide-and-conquer tactics to gain approval from local officials.

“What kind of job is he going to offer my three 70 and 80-year-old aunties?” Yellowhorse asked Tome, challenging the developer’s claim that the project will bring jobs to the Navajo Nation. Yellowhorse’s aunts, like many traditional Navajos on the reservation, have raised sheep in the area all their lives and consider themselves gainfully employed.

Tome sidestepped Yellowhorse’s challenge, arguing that the tram to an elevated walkway and a hot-dog stand along the river would have no impact on the Grand Canyon’s natural integrity or nearby areas held holy by Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni religions. Fedarko, whose recent New York Times editorial on the development plan sparked a national outcry, responded, capturing the public outrage: “The notion that delivering 10,000 people per day to the bottom of the Grand Canyon not having an effect on it is absurd.”

Radio listeners from across the country phoned in to echo this sentiment. “It would be a travesty to open that Pandora’s box for profit,” said one caller from Detroit.

“There are some things that are so grand, so special, that they should not be marred by commercial development,” host Tom Ashbrook added.

Renae Yellowhorse, whose opposition to the plan has made her the target of criticism, reiterated the importance of Navajo voices in the debate: “My hope is that it will be stopped—that the world outcry to desecration of such a holy place will be heard….and that… my people, the people that are going to be directly affected, my family, my aunties, that their voices can be heard…and that they won’t fall on deaf ears….”

To hear the entire “On Point” broadcast, click here.

You can help. To learn more about Save the Confluence, click here.

To read Kevin Fedarko’s editorial in the New York Times and learn more about Grand Canyon Trust’s work on this issue, click here.

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Legal Victory – Happy 50th Birthday Canyonlands!

The 'highway' as roaring creek, about 4 miles south of Peekaboo. © Ted Zukoski

The ‘highway’ as roaring creek, about 4 miles south of Peekaboo. © Ted Zukoski

On the eve of Canyonlands National Park’s birthday on September 12, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals gave the park and the Americans who own her a beautiful gift: an ecologically intact perennial desert stream – Salt Creek.

On Monday the Court refused to re-hear San Juan County and the state of Utah’s case before the full court, affirming a positive April 2014 ruling by a three judge panel. That ruling found that “The state and county failed to carry their burden of establishing ten years of continuous public use of the Salt Creek Road as a public thoroughfare prior to reservation of Canyonlands National Park in 1964.”  This means that the beautiful desert stream is not, in fact, a vehicle highway owned by the state of Utah and San Juan County. It’s a riparian area, home to most of the desert’s birds and wildlife.  And thanks to the Tenth Circuit Court, it can stay that way.

With the ruling, Salt Creek will remain a place of quiet beauty, with healthy wildlife habitat and clean water. © Ted Zukoski

With the ruling, Salt Creek will remain a place of quiet beauty, with healthy wildlife habitat and clean water. © Ted Zukoski

Long a treacherous 4×4 route in and out of the stream bed of Salt Creek, the National Park Service closed the Salt Creek route to vehicles in 1995 after concluding that off-road vehicles were causing severe damage to the streambed, wildlife, vegetation and archaeological resources in the area. San Juan County sued to re-open the road in 2004, and ten years and more than $2 million in taxpayer money spent on litigation later, the Tenth Circuit has affirmed what we knew all along – that the state and county have no legitimate claim to the stream as a “road.” The state and county can appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but the Tenth’s refusal to re-hear the case is a tremendous victory.  Earthjustice Attorneys Heidi McIntosh, Ted Zukowski, and Steve Bloch of SUWA represent Grand Canyon Trust, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and The Wilderness Society in the litigation.

To see a gallery of Salt Creek, click here.

Read the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance press release on the ruling.

Read the ruling here.

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