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Climate: Utah tree-ring study shows severity of historic megadroughts

Luminosity.

Old Douglas firs can help reveal historic climate cycles.

Recent dry spells not so bad compared to past centuries

Staff Report

FRISCO — A tree-ring reconstruction of Utah’s climate going back to 1429 shows that the state has experienced several mega-droughts in past centuries that would be life-changing if they happen again, according to Brigham Young University professor Matthew Bekker.

The worst drought of the modern era, the 1930s Dust Bowl, barely ranks on the top 10 list of droughts in that 500-year span,” Bekker said. The findings reinforce similar studies for the Colorado River Basin. Continue reading

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Federal judge slams BLM for Utah ORV plan

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Some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Southwest will get a reprieve from the impacts of motorized use, as a federal court rejected an ill-conceived BLM management plan in eastern Utah. bberwynphoto.

Court ruling repudiates Bush-era policies that favored exploitation over preservation

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal court this week rejected a bush-era land management plan in Utah, requiring the Bureau of Land Management to go back and consider the destructive impacts of motorized use in some of the state most cherished wild areas.

The Richfield-area resource management plan had designated more than 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails, enough miles to drive from Atlanta to Anchorage, for ORV vehicle use despite evidence of environmental damage and conflicts with other public lands visitors.  

According to environmental groups, the plan prioritized motorized recreation, threatening world-famous southern Utah wilderness landscapes like the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy’s infamous hideout, Robber’s Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states) and Factory Butte. Continue reading

Fossil fuel drilling fingered in Uinta Basin ozone formation

Better pollution control technology needed to cut VOC emissions

Monitoring sites in the Uinta Basin.

Monitoring sites in the Uinta Basin.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Ongoing studies of winter ozone formation in the Uinta Basin shows the need for better pollution control technology on oil and gas drilling rigs and other equipment used for fossil fuel development.

An emissions inventory developed for the study found that oil and gas operations are responsible for 98-99 percent of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and for 57-61 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions. VOCs and nitrogen compounds are the key ingredients for ozone-laced smog, which has been clearly identified as a human health threat. Continue reading

Court rejects energy industry challenge to oil lease withdrawals on western public land

Contested oil and gas plays at issue in federal appeals court

A federal court this week ruled on the disposition of several disputed oil leases in the spectacular canyon country of the Southwest.

A federal court this week ruled on the disposition of several disputed oil leases in the spectacular canyon country of the Southwest. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal court this week confirmed that the  energy industry missed its legal window to contest a U.S. Department of Interior decision to withdraw 77 oil and gas leases in Utah. Some of the tracts were in the vicinity of Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument — too close for comfort, according to conservation groups, who convinced the incoming Obama administration to withdraw the leases.

The leases had originally been auctioned off ain the waning days of the Bush administration, in a move widely characterized as a parting gift from Bush-era officials to the energy industry. Interior Secretary Ken scrapped the leases because BLM skimped on its environmental analysis and failed to adequately consult with the National Park Service.

In September 2012, the 10th Circuit ruled that the energy industry missed its 90-day window to challenge Sec. Salazar’s decision under the Mineral Leasing Act. Today the Court rejected industry’s request to have the full Court revisit that decision.  Continue reading

Utah ‘phantom road’ claim gets appeals court hearing

The State of Utah and San Juan County are claiming that the stream bed of Salt Creek is a highway under a repealed federal law that was passed to enable settlement of the West. Photo courtesy Ted Zukoski. Click on the image to view a slideshow of Salt Creek.

Ecologically sensitive stream in Canyonlands National Park at issue in long-running battle over local rights-of-way claims

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A long-running battle over the interpretation of an obscure federal law may move one step closer to resolution this week, as the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals hears oral arguments in a case addressing state claims to a highway right-of-way in Salt Creek, an ecologically sensitive streambed in Canyonlands National Park.

The National Park Service closed the stream bed to vehicles in 2005, citing damage to natural resources, including crushed vegetation, water pollution and degradation of wildlife habitat. San Juan County and the State of Utah sued the Park Service, arguing that the Park could not close the streambed to jeeps because it was a county and state highway, based on a settlement-era law known as R.S. 2477. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Lead poisoning still plagues condor recovery

A tagged California condor in flight.

Failure to reduce lead exposure may lead to end of condor restoration effort in Arizona And Utah

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Government conservation biologists say California condors are slowly recovering in Utah and Arizona, with more breeding pairs and consistent use of seasonal ranges — but exposure to lead contamination associated with big game hunting  continues to be a major challenge.

The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically separate, self-sustaining populations – a primary population in California and the other outside of California, each with 150 birds and at least 15 breeding pairs.

But the partner agencies will seriously consider withdrawing support for condor reintroduction efforts in the Southwest if, by the end of 2016, a reduction of extreme lead exposures (blood lead levels) is not achieved and a declining trend in diagnosed lead related mortality and morbidity is not observed. Continue reading

Travel: Harvest time at Capitol Reef National Park

Plums, pears and apples available to park visitors

Fruit orchards flank a campground along Capitol Reef National Park’s Scenic Drive. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Capitol Reef National Park visitors enjoy a picnic in the Fruita rural historic district. Photo National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The famed national parks in Utah’s red rock country generally conjure up visions of lizards basking on sun-baked rocks, sandstone arches and gnarled juniper trees, but some of the parks have a softer side.

Capitol Reef National Park, for example, is home to the largest historic orchards in the national park system, encompassing more than 3,000 fruit and nut trees planted by early Mormon pioneers and settlers in the 1800s in what is now the historic Fruita rural historic district. Continue reading

Wildfires shutting down gas fields in Wyoming, Utah

52 major wildfires burning on about 900,000 acres across the West

A hillside explodes into flames on the Arapaho Fire in Wyoming. Photo courtesy USFS.

A smoke plume rises from the fast-growing Arapaho Fire in Wyoming. Photo courtesy T. Moxham/USFS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even as firefighters gain control of the large and destructive fires in Colorado, large wildfires continue to burn around the West, including Wyoming, where the Arapaho Fire, on the Medicine Bow National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland, blew up to 75,000 acres Sunday.

The fire, between Casper and Laramie, has destroyed an undetermined number of structures and burned so fiercely Sunday that it created its own weather. Firefighters focused on structure protection in the Harris Park subdivision to try prevent additional damage to residential areas.

Driven by winds and fueled by the same dry conditions that contributed to the recent Colorado infernos, the Arapaho Fire showed extreme behavior Sunday, at times growing at the rate of 1 mph. Firefighters are concerned that it could become a monster fire if it becomes established in the Friend Creek Drainage.

More than 500 firefighters are already trying to contain the fire, with an incoming Type 1 management team slated to take over command. The Arapaho Fire is burning in dense, dry forest, with plenty of beetle-killed timber and down, dead fuels.

Also in Wyoming, the 45,000-acre Fontenelle Fire has been growing about 4,000 acres per day. According to the latest update, large fire growth continues to place substantial strain on helium plant construction (delaying contributions to the nation’s critical helium supply and employment of 300-plus construction workers), as well as oil and gas production.

More on Wyoming wildfires here. Continue reading

Utah’s Dump Fire likely sparked by careless shooters

Two western fires attributed to gunfire

The Dump Fire in Utah may have been started by recreational shooting.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A Utah wildfire that was likely started by recreational shooters has raced through more than 4,00o acres of grass, brush and timber near Saratoga Springs, resulting in the evacuation of more than a 1,000 residents. according to InciWeb.org.

The Dump Fire also threatens a dynamite manufacturing plant in the area. Officials have cordoned off an area about one to two miles around the plant to try and mitigate harm.

The fire is burning south of Salt Lake City and west of Provo, near the east shore of Utah Lake. Continue reading

Battle over nuclear energy looms in Utah

Green River water rights allocated for new power plants near Green River; preliminary federal permitting process under way

The Green River at Canyonlands National Park. PHOTO VIA THE WIKIPEDIA COMMONS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — River runners, conservation advocates, farmers and other Utah stakeholders say they will continue to fight plans to build a nuclear reactor near Green River following a decision by Utah state engineer Kent Jones to approve a water rights transfer to a nuclear power company.

Blue Castle Holdings hopes to build nuclear reactors on the Green River and sell the power to Southern California.

“This was the only opportunity for a Utah official to reject this terrible plan,” said Matt Pacenza, policy director of HEAL Utah, which has led the fight against the reactors. “Now all that stands between us and reactors at the gateway to southern Utah is a federal agency notorious for cozying up to the nuclear industry.” Continue reading

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