What Our Southern Utah Forests Could Be: A Photo Tour for You

Do you know why it’s hard to know or even imagine what the three national forests of southern Utah (Dixie, Fishlake, and Manti-La Sal) would look like if they weren’t grazed by livestock? It is because 97% of the 4.5 million acres of these forests are assigned to livestock grazing.

No other potentially destructive use (e.g., logging, motorized recreation, or mining) is permitted on anywhere near that proportion of the forests, even though livestock grazing can and often does profoundly alter the nature and functions of the forests. Negative impacts of grazing include increasing erosion along stream banks; trampling of moist meadows; reducing plant diversity; spreading invasive species; and removing wildlife hiding cover.

Our new “What Our Forests Could Be” interactive map below displays fine photographs of what the southern Utah forests look like in some of the few areas not currently grazed by livestock, as well as photos of comparable, grazed sites nearby.  Short descriptions help you understand the importance of conditions shown in the photos.

This map is timely. In summer 2014, the three forests are will begin a public process by which they will change how grazing is managed on the Dixie, Fishlake, and Manti-La Sal forests.  Click here to join with the Grand Canyon Trust in providing input on how  grazing on these three forests should be better managed – including  allowing for  more areas to become voluntarily free of livestock grazing – thus allowing the forests of southern forests  to become  all they can be.

What Our Forests Could Be Interactive Map Photo Tour

Click here to view map in full-screen mode.

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Lawsuit Expands As More Pollution Problems Emerge at White Mesa Uranium Mill

For Immediate Release, July 30, 2014

Contact:         Taylor McKinnon (801) 300-2414

Lawsuit Expands As More Pollution Problems Emerge at White Mesa Uranium Mill

SALT LAKE CITY—Grand Canyon Trust today expanded its lawsuit against Energy Fuels Resources after receiving records showing additional radon air pollution violations at the company’s White Mesa uranium mill in southeastern Utah.

The White Mesa Mill is the only conventional uranium mill operating today in the U.S. It processes ore from regional uranium mines, including near Grand Canyon. For the last twenty years, it has also received, processed, and disposed of radioactive waste, or “alternate feed,” from Superfund sites and other contaminated locations across the U.S., including the Nevada Test Site.

Grand Canyon Trust in April sued Energy Fuels Resources for violating radon-222 pollution limits in 2012 and 2013 at one of its tailings impoundments, and for operating six instead of the maximum-allowed two impoundments. Newly obtained records show that a second impoundment, cell 3, also exceeded radon-222 pollution limits in 2013, and that Energy Fuels violated pollution monitoring and reporting requirements. The Trust today notified Energy Fuels that it is amending its the April lawsuit to include these additional Clean Air Act violations.

“Our position with this litigation is simple: Radiological pollution is dangerous, and uranium mill operators must comply with laws reducing that danger,” said Taylor McKinnon, director of energy at Grand Canyon Trust.

The Mill’s Clean Air Act violations threaten the health of nearby communities, including White Mesa and Blanding, Utah, which are within ten miles of the Mill. Exposure to radon-222 is linked to cancer, genetic defects, and increases in mortality rates. More insidiously, a legacy of contamination could result from these violations.

The Clean Air Act limits the number of tailings impoundments at uranium mills to ensure ongoing remediation, and to prevent owners from abandoning highly polluted sites without remediation. Citing poor market conditions, Energy Fuels in December announced that it plans to close the mill in 2014 and potentially reopen it 2015. The ongoing cost of the federal closure and remediation of the abandoned Atlas uranium mill outside Moab, Utah, for example, is expected to exceed $1 billion — a cost borne by taxpayers after the mill owners declared bankruptcy.

“The Colorado Plateau suffers a sixty year history of deadly uranium pollution,” said McKinnon. “It’s one of America’s worst environmental injustices. It’s on my generation to ensure that legacy is fixed and not furthered.”

Attorneys Travis Stills of Energy and Conservation Law and Anne Mariah Tapp and Neil Levine of Grand Canyon Trust represent the Grand Canyon Trust.

Download a copy of April’s court-stamped complaint here.

Download a copy of today’s legal notice here.

The mission of the Grand Canyon Trust is to protect and restore the Colorado Plateau—its spectacular landscapes, flowing rivers, clean air, diversity of plants and animals, and areas of beauty and solitude.

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Posted in Energy, Other News, Plateau-wide Issues, Uncategorized, Uranium, Utah Issues | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Developments Doom Grand Canyon?

The Little Colorado River (foreground) meets the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The National Park Service says a development that would include a tramway to this confluence presents one of the most "serious threats the park has faced in its 95-year history."

The Little Colorado River (foreground) meets the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The National Park Service says a development that would include a tramway to this confluence presents one of the most “serious threats the park has faced in its 95-year history.” (Photo by Ted Grusing)

Update: CBS News also covered this story on July 14, 2014. Watch the video here

This week’s story in the Los Angeles Times spotlights ever-present threats to Grand Canyon National Park. “The Grand Canyon is Doomed” chimed in Outside online in response to developers’ plans to build a gondola ride to the canyon’s bottom and a mega-resort at the canyon’s most popular entrance.

According to the Times article, the National Park Service “worries those new developments will jeopardize some of the park’s most iconic vistas and push already-strained resources to the brink” and adds that this is the “most serious threat the park has faced in its 95-year history.”

Grand Canyon Trust was challenging these threats long before they reached national media.

In 2012, we accepted an invitation from Save the Confluence, an organized group of local families from the Bodaway/Gap Chapter of the Navajo Nation, to join their campaign to oppose the proposed Escalade development at the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers.

While working in support of the Confluence families to stop the project, our team is also collaborating with community groups to help craft alternative economic development strategies that would bring much-needed jobs to this area of the Navajo Nation without threatening national park resources, sacred sites, or traditional culture.

Two years ago, Grand Canyon Trust intervened in water and sewer applications before the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) in a massive development proposed in Tusayan, at the southern entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. Developers hope to build “3 million square feet of commercial space—with high-end stores, fancy hotels, condos, a concert pavilion, spa, dude ranch and Native American cultural fair—along with hundreds of homes, at a range of price-points, and some of it meant for local workers.” (Indian Country Today Media Network)

Under pressure from the Trust, developers withdrew their ACC permit application. The Trust, Havasupai Tribe, and other allies are continuing to fight to prevent the developer from sinking new wells that threaten Grand Canyon springs and to force compliance with all state and federal regulations.

The Grand Canyon is not doomed. The Trust remains vigilant in opposing these developments, as well as uranium mining in Grand Canyon watersheds. But we need your help.

You can help by becoming a member of the Grand Canyon Trust; you can also stay up to date on this and other issues by signing up for our e-news and following our news blog. You can also follow and support Save the Confluence families.

-Roger Clark

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Connecting “Island” Fragments: Finding the Mountain Lion

By Erin Lees, Intern, Kane-Two Mile Ranches Program

The grass moved and swayed in the wind, I could almost feel the breeze. A bird would fly to the tree and perch on the creaking branch but in the next slide, it would disappear. I would again watch the grass perform its interpretive dance while I sat in my chair and watched. Hours went by without documenting a single animal. I would reluctantly file “blank” in hundreds of slots in the Excel spreadsheet. One location, nothing. The next location, nothing. I watched more tumble weeds roll by the camera and the tedious work would start to pull my eyelids down but suddenly a figure would appear in the screen. At times it would be a single bighorn sheep or even a group of pronghorn. But, I thought, could it be our target species?

Emerge the mountain lion. A statuesque, elegant, and lively animal was standing in front of me with only a computer screen between us. I could almost feel the warm breath against my skin. The puma seemed noble and wise moving its body weight from one shoulder blade to the next as it pursued its target of attack. One photo it would be present, the next it would vanish. For that brief moment in time, the mountain lion’s majestic spirit appeared through the camera lens. I was very curious as to where it was going. It could be searching for food, for its cubs, finding a new population, retreating from poor habitat; the answers are endless.

GCT_WildlifeConnectivityPhotos_Updated_V2

Tediously sifting through mountains of pictures, it is easy to lose sight on what we are trying to achieve. These photos came from motion-activated camera “traps” that were placed in areas within the Kane and Two Mile Ranches in northern Arizona predicted to be “high traffic” for a number of wildlife species including the noble puma. Each photo is cataloged according to the location and species (or lack thereof) that appears. We are essentially asking whether we are finding animals in the places our sophisticated statistical models of habitat connectivity suggest they should be. Along the way, we are also learning a great deal about the habitat requirements of many animals that call the Kane and Two Mile Ranches their home.

It is crucial to understand the effects that landscape form and infrastructure, such as roads, have on the movement of species and how possible “islands” connect to other populations. The pictures from this camera trap data are doing just that. It gives organizations like ours the ability to better understand the habitat in order to be aware of potential isolated populations and address fragmented areas. You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

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Connecting “Island” Fragments: Exploring Wildlife Connectivity on the Kane and Two Mile Ranches

By Cerissa Hoglander, Kane & Two Mile Ranches Program Associate

Habitat fragmentation is a global concern, and the Colorado Plateau is no exception.

Maintaining the connections between protected habitat “islands” is important for reducing the vulnerability of these landscapes to threats such as large-scale wildfires, expanding energy development, and the spread of invasive species like cheatgrass.

Habitat fragmentation can be human-caused; for example, Highway 89A near Kane Ranch serves as a barrier to wildlife. (Photo by Cerissa Hoglander)

Habitat fragmentation can be human-caused; for example, Highway 89A near Kane Ranch may serve as a barrier to wildlife. (Photo by Cerissa Hoglander)

Grand Canyon Trust is working to identify areas where maintaining habitat connectivity, or movement pathways between habitat islands, is critical for the persistence of wildlife species on the Kane and Two Mile landscape, located on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This wild landscape includes the ponderosa pine forest of the Kaibab National Forest and the pinyon-juniper woodland and desert sagebrush of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

The Grand Canyon, which serves as a boundary of the Kane and Two Mile landscape, is an example of a natural disturbance that causes habitat fragmentation. (Google Earth image)

The Grand Canyon, along the southern border of the Kane and Two Mile landscape, is an example of a natural barrier that causes habitat fragmentation. (Google Earth image)

The Kane and Two Mile region is home to a rich diversity of plant and animal species, including the mountain lion. With their wide range and long-distance movements, mountain lions are a primary focal species for habitat connectivity modeling and can serve as a proxy for the conservation of other species in the region. These connectivity models and maps, developed in collaboration with the non-profit science organization Conservation Science Partners, Inc., use satellite imagery, as well as data on topography, vegetation, and other landscape characteristics, to predict areas of high or low connectivity across the landscape. More specifically, these models draw on concepts from electronic circuit theory. “Connectivity models created using circuit theory treat the landscape as a network of electronic circuits. Think of a typical circuit board. Different habitat features have different levels of resistance to an animal moving across the landscape,” says Dr. Brett Dickson of Conservation Science Partners. “Based on measures of ‘current flow,’ our models predict the corridors where animals are most likely to move from one habitat patch to another.”

Mountain lion (Puma concolor) habitat connectivity model developed by Conservation Science Partners, Inc. for Arizona and New Mexico. The “current flow” represents the probability of animal movement between areas considered to be high quality habitat for this species.

Mountain lion (Puma concolor) habitat connectivity model developed by Conservation Science Partners, Inc. for Arizona and New Mexico. The “current flow” represents the probability of animal movement between areas considered to be high quality habitat for this species.

In the summer of 2013, Trust staff and volunteers hiked deep into canyons along the Kaibab Plateau’s East Monocline to set up over 40 wildlife camera ‘traps’ in areas predicted by our models to be corridors. Among other species, the pronghorn antelope, bobcats, coyotes, and bighorn sheep that moved through the field of view of the carefully placed camera traps triggered the shutter and were recorded with a candid shot.

GCT AmeriCorps Amanda Smith works with GCT intern Ysa Diaz (left) to set up wildlife camera traps.

GCT AmeriCorps Amanda Smith works with GCT intern Ysa Diaz (left) to set up wildlife camera traps in the East Monocline of the Kane and Two Mile Ranches. When triggered by motion, these wildlife camera traps snap photos of species moving through this region (photos by GCT Volunteer Ross Kantra).

Throughout this effort, camera traps were maintained by staff and volunteers who ensured that the cameras kept working through the flash floods, lightning storms, and sun-scorched summer days, and regularly replaced data-rich memory cards. As daytime maintenance trips were not typically rewarded with sightings of mountain lions or other wildlife, committed staff and volunteers were eager to see the fruits of their labor recorded by the trap photographs. These data will allow us to provide guidance to conservation efforts targeted at maintaining the connections among important habitats patches on the Colorado Plateau. This effort represents just one of the many research projects on the Kane and Two Mile landscape as the Trust works to use science as a foundation for well-informed conservation action. In the fall of 2013, volunteers collected multiple rounds of memory cards and logged many hours in the field, with the red-dirt-caked hiking boots to prove it. Back at the office, thousands of photographs were tediously inspected by Trust interns and staff. All were anxious to document our target species, the mountain lion, and get a glimpse of other elusive northern Arizona wildlife otherwise invisible to most visitors to this remote and wild region. Click here to read about our intern Erin’s behind-the-scenes account of this camera trapping effort in our final blog post of this series.

 

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Utah OKs Oil Refinery Construction Before Examining Impacts on Public Health, Pollution, Iconic National Parks

Refinery, Approved Without Permit, Would Be Utah’s First in 30 Years

For Immediate Release, May 14, 2014

Contact:

Anne Mariah Tapp, Grand Canyon Trust, (512) 565-9906, atapp@grandcanyontrust.org

John Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435) 260-2590, john@livingrivers.org

Tim Wagner, Sierra Club, (801) 502-5450, tim.wagner@sierraclub.org

Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity, (310) 779-4894, rspivak@biologicaldiversity.org

SALT LAKE CITY— Disregarding laws meant to protect public health, the environment and national parks, the Utah Division of Air Quality has given Emery Refining permission to build Utah’s first new oil refinery in 30 years. Approval was given even though the project has not been given a permit, public and environmental reviews have not been conducted, and the agency has not determined whether the refinery complies with pollution laws. The refinery in eastern Utah would be within miles of Canyonlands and Arches national parks, two of the state’s most popular tourist destinations.

Conservation groups today called on state officials to prohibit construction pending final permitting.

“State and federal laws are clear: Construction must follow permitting, and permitting must follow public and environmental review,” said Anne Mariah Tapp with Grand Canyon Trust. “Turning that scheme on its head reveals the deeper problem of Utah heeding oil interests over public and environmental health.”

Utah is allowing Emery to proceed with construction under a 2013 permit originally issued for a now-abandoned refinery proposal. After conservation groups challenged that permit over unlawful pollution, Emery proposed a new refinery design. Under Utah law the company should have to wait for a new permit for the new design. Instead the state gave Emery approval to build its new refinery under the inapplicable 2013 permit. The groups’ legal challenge to the original permit is still pending before an administrative law judge.

“Air quality for the downwind communities of eastern Utah has been worsening, and it’s just a short matter of time before the limits of pollution are exceeded. Energy companies need to invest in a clean-energy economy, because this business-as-usual approach to energy development is destined to damage our health, the water cycle of this important watershed, and the enjoyment of this landscape’s superlative scenery,” said John Weisheit of Living Rivers.

“Utahns should be outraged at the state fast-tracking Emery’s refinery plans,” said Stephen Bloch with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The Division of Air Quality has its priorities backwards when it puts streamlining Emery’s permit ahead of its duty to protect the environment and human health.”

Conservation groups’ comments on Emery’s new design point out several major problems in the state’s draft permit for that new design. The state failed to perform mandatory dispersion modeling and impact analysis of hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, toluene, hexane and ethylbenzene; it sharply underestimated emissions from volatile organic compounds and greenhouse gas emissions; and it failed to analyze visibility impacts to Canyonlands and Arches national parks and impacts to endangered fish like Colorado pikeminnow in the Green River.

“Millions of people flock to Utah for the magnificent public lands, national parks and wildlife,” said Randi Spivak with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Putting a toxic oil refinery smack in the middle of some of America’s most stunning landscapes will pollute the air and endanger the health of park visitors and wildlife.”

Emery’s newest refinery plan comes as Grand County officials promote an oil transportation corridor connecting Green River to the oil, oil shale and tar sands deposits atop the Book Cliffs. Increasingly the refinery appears to be one part of a bigger scheme to industrialize Utah’s wildlands for high-carbon fossil fuel extraction.

“Utah’s biggest draw and economic engine, our majestic wildlands, is being transformed into a dirty energy wasteland before our very eyes,” said Tim Wagner of the Sierra Club. “In spite of recent double-digit growth in Utah’s outdoor recreation and tourism economies and the overwhelming evidence of the impacts to Utah from climate change, Utah’s leaders continually demonstrate their lack of regard for anyone or anything but short-term profits.”

Background

Utah’s air-quality rules explicitly provide for a pre-construction public comment period and a public hearing and mandate that “the director will consider all comments received during the public comment period and at the public hearing and, if appropriate, will make changes to the proposal in response to comments before issuing an approval order or disapproval order” (R307-401-7(3)). The rules further require new sources of air pollution to obtain an approval order “prior to initiation of construction,” which is defined as “any physical change or change in the method of operation (including fabrication, erection, installation, demolition, or modification of an emissions unit) that would result in a change of emissions” (R306-401-2).

The rules ensure that the Division of Air Quality will consider and mitigate environmental and public-health effects of emissions before the company commits resources to a project. See R307-401-7 (1), (2) – Public Notice (“prior to issuing an approval or disapproval order…the director’s analysis of the notice of intent proposal, and the proposed approval order conditions will be available for public inspection.”); see also R307-401-7 (3) (“the director will consider all comments received during the public comment period and at the public hearing and, if appropriate, will make changes to the proposal in response to comments before issuing an approval order or disapproval order”).

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