Utah Native Plant Society

The posts contained herein may not always necessarily represent the official positions and views of the Utah Native Plant Society and are mine alone; nonetheless, this blog is intended to largely supplement the Utah Native Plant Society web site and has similar goals and objectives and when I think my slant about something is perhaps either controversial or straying from what might be generally supported by UNPS, I will try to so indicate since I am also the webmaster for the UNPS web site, a former UNPS board member, conservation co-chair, Utah rare plants guide coordinator, and remain actively involved with day-to-day issues involving the organization. Much of the information contained here will therefore no doubt therefore relate to issues of current concern to the UNPS board and/or its members, inquires made to unps@unps.org, postings made on the UNPS listserv, and the activities our various committees are involved with (conservation, restoration, rare plant issues, invasive species, horticulture and more) and our many and various botanical connections not the least of which are the herbariums based in Utah and elsewhere, and other conservation organizations that have goals that overlap those of UNPS.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hatch, UTC, not clean nor green

The Utah Technology Council (UTC) bills itself as " the state’s premier professional association for over 5,000 high tech, clean tech and life science companies, representing nearly 10 percent of the state’s total payroll."  It repeats this claim in a 2015 op-ed piece by its CEO Richard Nelson,  I-Squared Act good for tech companies, Utah economy (Deseret News, May 18, 2015) which included a picture of Utah Senator Orrin Hatch.

UTC has for many years had a close association with Hatch, and he has often appeared as a speaker at UTC events.  On November 2, 2015, Sen. Hatch is now even being inducted into UTC's Hall of Fame.   And the UTC has gone so far as to include the text of an op-ed piece considerably glorifying Hatch's accomplishments that first appeared in the August 6, 2015 Tribune and which was written by an employee of doTerra (see Corporate Puppet Masters and Orrin Hatch in Utah Stories, Feb. 12, 2015).

Hatch though has repeatedly rejected any association with greenness (Orrin Hatch and environmental issues) except for when it comes to "green cards" and legislation that UTC has strongly supported but which may backfire (New H-1B bill will 'help destroy' U.S. tech workforce: Measure could accelerate offshoring of U.S. jobs, critics argue, Computerworld, Jan 14, 2015).

Associating with "clean" industries however infers being green at some level, like it or not.  Polluted air is not clean nor are polluted rivers.  Protecting the natural world involves being clean.

In fact, Hatch is being inducted under the allusion of somehow being associated with "clean industries" and as someone whose overall policies would somehow attract "clean tech workers" to Utah and living in a healthy environment.   In 2014 he even introduced a UTC Hall of Fame inductee Marc Benioff who has time and again talked about his corporate philosophy of serving a variety of stakeholders, one of which includes the environment.

Yet clearly Hatch does not share many of those same philosophies.  Hatch instead has a relatively narrow view of philanthropy and of what it means to "do the right thing."

At this very moment while being inducted into the UTC's Hall of Fame, two pending bills introduced by Hatch and co-sponsors include:

(1) Senate bill 1142 introduced April 30, 2015Native Species Protection Act - following a common trend to mislead the public by actions with agendas that are actually anti-environmental, this bill of which Hatch is one of four sponsors (including the primary sponsor, Utah Senator Mike Lee) would strip Endangered Species Act protection from any plant or animal species that solely occurs within the boundaries of a given state specifically exempting them from the Endangered Species Act and the commerce clause (article I, section 8, clause 3) of the constitution.   This shameful proposal however is contrary to the intent of the Endangered Species Act and ignores article IV, section 3, clause 4 of the constitution which gives Congress the power to make rules and regulations respecting to territory belonging to the United States.

In Hatch's op-ed dated April  20, 2012 entitled Endangered Species Act Prime Example of Federal Overreach, he outlines some of the same tired arguments (all that relate to animals and not plants yet Senate Bill 1142 makes no distinction between the two) that do not apply to plant issues but which also create the same kind of federal fear mongering that other state and federal officials have also participated in.   Senate Bill 1142 is clearly an attack primarily on the federally listed Utah Prairie Dog (Cynomys parvidens), the only mammal species that is indigenous to Utah.

The real intent here is to try to open as many areas for energy and other development as quickly as possible without Endangered Species Act considerations.   But meanwhile Utah has no laws whatsoever to protect many types of species including plants.  And the combination of these activities will denigrate our quality of life with increased air pollution, decreased water quality, and negative impacts from non-stop road building and so forth.

Many other species, especially plants, can have distributions that may be restricted to a single state that should still be afforded the proper protections under the goal of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to prevent the extinction of species.   Whether a species just happens to fall within the arbitrary geopolitical boundaries of a single state or not is irrelevant to basic biology and the application of this important law that has wide support by the general public and scientists (and not just "greens").   Further, just because a species might occur in more than one state does not mean that it then is an "article of commerce" and so the logic of the bill fails.   If however one were to apply an interstate commerce idea and link that to endangered or threatened species protection under the ESA, the argument that a federal interstate commerce connection exists is implicit in the fact that rare plant seeds or collections of all or parts of plants  (whether by private collectors or by scientists) of species solely occurring in one state inevitably have interstate commerce connections both in being transported across state lines (on federal highways or by airlines) and in being sold commercially domestically and overseas.  The same can be said of animal species.  Clearly Congress can and should regulate that commerce.

(2)Senate bill 1783 introduced July 15, 2015:  "A bill to amend the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 to clarify a provision relating to the designation of a northern transportation route in Washington County, Utah" - this bill would exempt Endangered Species Act provisions with respect to proposals to build a Northern Corridor north of the St. George area through an area already protected by a habitat conservation plan.   The amended language would stipulate that the construction of the route not be subjected to "additional restrictions or requirements from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service."   Without referring to the real issue, Hatch as the sole sponsor of the bill is attempting to subvert any requirements of the Endangered Species Act as they apply to the federally listed Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, with respect to a Northern Corridor.  Simpy put, Hatch does not want to follow the ESA,  signed into law by a Republican president just three years before Hatch's first term in office.  Instead Hatch and other Utah officials want to create their own exceptions as they see fit.

Both of these bills are being given very poor chances of success; it would appear they will not add to Hatch's legacy of "immeasurable success."

UTC (formerly UITA) has for some time now been a de facto arm of the GOP in Utah.   Its CEO sent out the following e-mail to UTC members in 2006:

From:           "Richard Nelson" <rnelson_slc@hotmail.com>            
Date sent:       Mon, 22 May 2006 15:59:22 -0600
Subject:         Hatch Fundraising Reception

In recent years I've worked closely w/ Senator Orrin Hatch and found him to  be a true champion of technology issues in our country.   Since he's had  such an important impact on our technology community, I hope you'll join me  on May 30th to thank him directly.  Many thanks!  Rich


Steve Appleton, Chairman, CEO and President of Micron Technology and the  Host Committee:

Rod Lewis, Richard Nelson, Jack Sunderlage, Will West, Dave Westergard,  Donald R. Savage, Jerry Oldroyd, Mike Bates, Joe Cannon, Jason Kreizenbeck,  Stan Lockhart, Larry Harlow, Bill Timmons Sr., John Kelliher, Makan  Delrahim, Gilbert Kaplan

cordially invite you to a fundraising reception for

The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch
United States Senator

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006
 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM

At the IM Flash Technologies headquarters
Lehi, Utah
(directions below)

The suggested minimum contribution for this event is $500.

The maximum that an individual can contribute is $2,100 per person for the general election.

Please make check payable to:  Hatch Election Committee

Please RSVP to Stan Lockhart at 801-368-2166 or lockhart@connect2.com

Contributions are not deductible for federal income tax purposes.  
Contributions by corporations and foreign nationals are prohibited. Federal law requires us to report the name, address, occupation and employer of each contributor who gives more than $200 in an election cycle to Hatch Election Committee.

Clearly this was an attempt to solicit campaign donations for Hatch's re-election.   And UTC e-mail records and other information were used to solicit those contributions.   Sending this from a private e-mail was an inexcusable stunt by Nelson to raise funds for Hatch.

Hatch raised $6.5 million dollars that year.  In the 2012 campaign he reportedly spent almost $20 per vote (see http://ballotpedia.org/Orrin_Hatch).

For now some 38 years Hatch has made a career out of politics and naturally has fought against term limits.   In running against Frank Moss who had held his prior senate seat for a mere 18 years, Hatch has more than doubled that time using the tried and true "But I can get things for Utah done because I have seniority" argument again and again, the same argument Moss could have just as easily used against him.  (Reportedly Hatch was quoted as saying “What do you call a Senator who’s served in office for 18 years? You call him home.”   In asking that question now of Hatch, i.e. "What do you call a Senator who's served for 38 years?" the answer might be, "Bought and paid for."  (See for example  Drug lobby gave $750,000 to pro-Hatch nonprofit in Utah's U.S. Senate race: Voters unaware of donation.)   At a bare minimum, Hatch's political career is based on hypocrisy.

In so closely affiliating themselves with Hatch, UTC has committed a grave disservice to Utah and to its members.   Awarding Hatch while he is still in office is a further indication of a high level of partisanship and questionable ethics.  While 501(c)(6) non-profit organizations can participate in some amount of lobbying and partisanship as long as they do not constitute a primary business activity, a "professional organization" trying to serve its members should normally greatly distance itself from most politicians and from partisanship in general.

Tech companies that join UTC should understand that they are affiliating themselves with philosophical ideologies that are very much in support of non-clean industries and then decide for themselves whether that is really in the best interest of their companies, and the health of their employees.   While Utah business promoters are touting Utah's environment as an exceptional place to live and work, our politicians are instead doing everything they can to open up as many of our lands for development as possible.

Tech workers should not be lured to Utah under false pretenses.

Individuals or companies considering relocating to Utah can still thrive without any assistance from UTC nor helping to promote some of their misdirected and ineffective agendas.   In fact, please come to Utah and help to provide a counterweight to the prevailing attitudes of certain politicians and other so-called community leaders.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Washington County Resource Management Plans: say no to Northern Corridor

BLM draft resource management plans (RMP's) have been released for review relating to Beaver Dam Wash and the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area located in Utah's Washington County.  The comment deadline is October 15, 2015.

Pending further review, it is likely that the Utah Native Plant Society will support Alternative C and oppose both the Northern Corridor" in the Red Cliffs NCA, as well as oppose continued livestock grazing in the Beaver Dam Wash.

We had recommended three ACEC's to the BLM St. George Field Offices when that input was sought in July 2010 relating to sites involving the federally listed plant species Astragalus holmgreniorum, Arctomecon humilis and Sphaeralcea gierischii but we have not yet determined whether provisions for any of those recommendations have been incorporated into these RMP's.

Meanwhile the normal development forces are at work.  See for example:

Hatch throws clout behind ‘Northern Corridor’ (by David DeMille, July 28, 2015, The Spectrum).

That Hatch would try to bypass federal legislation to thwart the Endangered Species Act is exactly the antics one would expect from someone who blames judges for making laws.   His acts are shameful for Utah and for the nation.  Is this part of the disingenuous "We know best how to care for our state because we live here" flag that many western states and politicians often affiliated with a certain political party seem to waiving these days?  For Hatch to be honored by organizations like the Utah Technology Council for creating "green jobs" is laughable.  The man is anything but green.

An opposing viewpoint from local resident Lisa Rutherford appeared in the August 17, 2015 edition of The Spectrum:

Sen. Hatch's plan won't work

In that column she notes:

UDOT’s 2007 report noted, “The Northern Corridor Alternative would not meet the objective of minimizing impacts to the reserve.” Due to this and other factors noted, “The City of St. George, UDOT, and FHWA determined that the anticipated implementation challenges and potential environmental effects, as previously described, would be substantial and thereby eliminated the Northern Corridor Alternative from further consideration.

Utah Department of Transportation's speculation that a road just might be good for the desert tortoise is equally shameful and embarrassing, and goes down a road (so to speak) that has been so often traveled by those favoring continued degradation of the natural world, and which scientific studies have again and again proven to be false.

More background about the Norther Corridor, see:

The Ghost Highway: The battle for the Northern Corridor, a conclusion by Don Gilman which appeared on August 23, 2015 in The Independent: a voice for Utah
(and prior articles in that series)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Animas spill: where the blame really lies

Despite the headline which the author probably did not write or even suggest in this article:

How the EPA managed to spill 3 million gallons of mining waste into a Colorado river (by Brad Plumer, August 10, 2015, Vox Media)

it is clear that this was simply a ticking time bomb. A mild earthquake or a weather-related landslide could no doubt have triggered this spill.   To what degree EPA was culpable in not notifying others of the spill sooner is unclear (for example, apparently the engineers working in the area had no cell phone coverage, see EPA faces criticism, praise at Silverton meeting published August 11, 2015 in the Durango Herald).

As the Plumer article indicates, the EPA has been trying to clean up the area since the 1980's and yet the town of Silverton has resisted time and time again.

A worse spill took place in 1975. The Animas River has been contaminated for a very long time.

Animas River, September 2011

While the conspiracy theorists and anti-fed folks will instead cry foul and point their fingers towards Washington DC,  what this shows are the very real and long term impacts of irresponsible mining activities and practices of the past, some of which continue; that's what the headline should say and what the text of the article supports.

When energy/mining companies are asked for reclamation or other post disturbance plans consisting of as little as say five years, look at what can happen 100+ years later. The short term gains are followed by exceptionally long term impacts that can and do jeopardize the future for all of us.  The Navajo Nation and downstream farmers should be seeking redress against the miners and energy companies that created this problem, and a local government that failed to act timely, and that stubbornly fought the cleanup at every turn, not the EPA.

Animas River, September 2011

Monday, March 30, 2015

Utah lawmakers, officials and agencies hate sage grouses, wolves, and beardtongues

Sage grouse:

Utah awards $2 million contract to fight grouse listing
(Salt Lake Tribune Brian Maffly May 21, 2014)

Utah lawmakers set to give sage grouse consultant another $2 million
(Salt Lake Tribune, Brian Maffly March 11, 2015)

$4 million to avoid listings?

And after the Governor was trying to say all the right things about good environmental stewardship and signing an executive order on February 10, 2015 to approve a conservation plan?   Clearly the state did not do this out of the kindness of their heart, and because they truly cherish this bird.

Wolves (related also to the above):

Utah sends $500K more to unexplained wolf delisting efforts
(Salt Lake Tribune, Brian Maffly March 18, 2015)

Utah's DWR is exceptionally anti-wolf.  They believe that wolves are a threat to wildlife, ignoring the best available science and ecology.

DWR biologists hope for wolf delisting

The wolf management plan is largely a product, and summary, of public opinion and perceived attitudes rather than science.  They also believe in introducing non-native ungulates into places like the La Sal and Tushar mountain ranges.

Beardtongues (Penstemon species):

A rare "beardtongue" species, Graham's penstemon.
Photo by Robert Fitts, Utah Natural Heritage Program (UNHP)

The State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration's (SITLA) #2 senior staff member John Andrews at a SITLA board of trustees retreat on April 16, 2014 with respect to a conservation agreement he was negotiating with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to thwart the listing under the Endangered Species Act of two rare Penstemon species explained it as follows:

"You are getting the ability to mine where you're going to want to be mining anyway and you are protecting something that wouldn't be disturbed.  So that's the basic concept is you’ve got a 15-year agreement that’s going to buy for all of our miners the ability to strip mine and destroy any penstemon that are located on those sites in exchange for some conservation on federal, SITLA and private lands."

Graham's penstemon adult growing in the flat, white shales of the Green River formation
Andrews somewhat derisively indicated in the April 16 meeting that this species "eats oil shale."
We do have oil shale because of plants; in fact, we exist because of plants.
 But plants do not eat oil shale.
The shales do act as "nurse rocks" for those few plants that survive after germinating.
The seed literally falls between the cracks.
Photo by Tony Frates, UNPS

Interestingly  he refers also refers to SITLA funds as "using company funding" to study (in a very misguided way) transplanting plants.  SITLA is at least a quasi-state agency,  but does act like an independent development company.  State agencies however were unwilling to actually fund the conservation agreement otherwise, and the FWS agreed to the untenable terms dictated by SITLA.  As also stated by Andrews on that same date:

"The agreement, and this was the most difficult to get the Service to agree to, the agreement has a provision that if the plants are listed, notwithstanding the conservation agreement, i.e. if an environmental group sues and wins and the Service has to list, the conservation agreement blows up, we are released from all obligations.  So what that is intended to be frankly is a club to go and say to the environmental groups:  if you guys go ahead and challenge this, if you win, you lose.  And we're hoping that will bring some of the more constructive environmentalists away from the court system and into accepting this."

It is entirely unclear who Andrews was referring to with respect to "constructive environmentalists."  Even more conservation organizations have become involved now more than ever before in challenging the agreement, and no group previously involved has dropped out.   It would be difficult to find any organization concerned about the natural world (much less any non-agency botanists other than those hired by SITLA or Uintah County) that would support the conservation agreement that was ultimately accepted by FWS.

Graham's penstemon is found in places with amazing scenery.
It grows in a narrow band from about 4600 to 6700 ft. elevation in Utah's southern
Uintah County and just barely over the UT-CO border into Colorado.
Photo by Robert Fits, UNHP

But unless SITLA or its lessees (primarily Enefit and Tomco/Red Leaf) plan to now intentionally destroy  beardtongues they weren't previously planning on destroying in the next 15 years, then nothing whatsoever would be lost through nullification of the agreement by a successful listing action:  the logic is a non sequitur. SITLA by its own narrow-minded policy only pays attention to plant species that are federally listed. While the Endangered Species Act (ESA) it is true does not directly protect plants that occur on private property (which in FWS terminology includes state-owned lands, those of which are managed by SITLA are not considered as "public" but some of which are de facto public lands), listed plant species that occur on private/state lands receive huge benefits as a byproduct of that listing.   Funding for surveys, research, and private lands acquisition, protective measures, and potentially USDA consultation all come into play when a species is listed including consideration of impacts involving a federal nexus.  These benefits have been clearly documented since the first species from Utah was listed under the ESA.

Also what Andrews/SITLA does not seem to understand is that they have already lost either way.  They had absolutely no intention of becoming involved in a conservation agreement until the FWS proposed to list for the second time, and because of the second lawsuit (and in the case of White River penstemon, because of a lawsuit involving another organization and FWS settlement).   This is all nothing other than a lose-lose situation from their perspective. They were planning to do nothing to protect these species.  Along with other state and local government agencies, their goal was to stop the federal listing, and nothing more.  While the FWS incorrectly agreed to accept the agreement due to pressures within their own organization and in trying to work with the state and did withdraw the listing, it came at a cost to SITLA and Uintah County as they were forced to do things that had no intention of ever doing.  And if yet a subsequent suit is successful, they will then lose everything that they were trying to accomplish by the overall inadequate conservation agreement. So there is no win-lose situation for conservation groups, only lose-lose for those organizations who thwarted it. The plant species will receive some consideration either way that they would not have (although, it is true they are going to suffer no matter what as their habitat is disrupted). Any bad publicity SITLA receives is their fault for their blatant behavior that they themselves made little attempt to hide.

And those benefits are significant and normally very positive for all concerned: listing actions should be embraced, not feared.   One of our first species to be listed in fact, Phacelia argillaceae (Clay phacelia) in 1978 has no federal ownership that has yet to be identified, yet it is because of the ESA that it still clings to existence.  The same is true with Ranunculus aestivalis (Autumn buttercup)  previously considered perhaps our "most endangered" plant species, but recently additional plants have been found; it still is exclusively found on lands solely under private ownership, but absent its ESA status it is likely its habitat would have been ultimately inadvertently impacted and this additional occurrence never found.   Oftentimes in fact private landowners are often voluntarily cooperative as was the case here.  Ascelpias welshii (Welsh's milkweed) largely occurs on non-federal lands and has been greatly aided by listing.  To a lesser degree, so has Astragalus desereticus, another listed species occurring solely in Utah and with no federal lands ownership.   And while it has remained largely off the radar, another federally plant listed species known only from Utah that involves only private and tribal ownership,  Lepidium barnebyanum (Barneby's peppergrass), has had some doors open because of its ESA status leading to increasing amounts of cooperation that will benefit that species.

Organizations like The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have focused on their Utah rare plant habitat preserves in places containing plants with an ESA status (one exception being Penstemon flowersii, another beardtongue that was considered for listing but was rejected partly due to its land ownership - incorrectly -  and only has a small amount of federal ownership) which have included the Clay phacelia, Autumn buttercup, Dwarf bearclaw poppy and Holmgren milkvetch, and no doubt those preserves would not have happened absent an ESA status, nor years of research and monitoring efforts that have been funded by TNC, the BLM and others (and yes, including even SITLA).

The position that ESA protection does not play an important role for plants that occur on private lands is becoming an exceptionally tired, ill-conceived argument, and very much distorts the truth and some 40 years of ESA history.

SITLA, according to its director Kevin Carter, controls some 360,000 acres of land in the Uinta Basin (and they own/manage some 3.3+ million acres total in Utah). In his presentation at Uinta Basin Energy Summit 2014, Carter stated that he thinks that ". . . the carbon balance is much better in developing resources here in the Uinta Basin than in other locations, and we will defend and support that position to the bitter end, because I believe that is the right place to develop these resources."

Yet those developing natural resources in the other places such as those Carter refers to (for example, in Alaska and Canada) will likely take the exact same intractable position, meaning that they will all continue, and they will therefore all contribute to climate change which is inextricably linked to the use of fossil fuels, and the accumulation of CO2 in our atmosphere will continue to exponentially rise to the breaking point.   It is a very short-sighted view of the future.

Plus these activities will greatly exacerbate the already unacceptable air pollution levels that are already occurring in this area (despite low population, pollution levels in the Uinta Basin are often the worst in the nation), and will negatively impact the health of residents living not only in the Basin, but also for those living on the Colorado Plateau generally, in Colorado, and in population centers along the Wasatch Front.  This in turn will not attract businesses that want to locate to Utah.  It will also not create a place/state that people will want to visit.

Utah Title 53C with respect to the School and Institutional Trust Lands Management Act states:

53C-5-101. Management of range resources.

(1) The director is responsible for the efficient management of all range resources on lands under the director's administration, consistent with his fiduciary duties of financial support to the beneficiaries.

(2) This management shall be based on sound resource management principles.

Sound resource management principles would certainly imply some reasonable level of "best management practices." This level of management however is largely lacking.  Natural resource issues are largely ignored in the pursuit of school revenue profits.  What happens on those 3.3 million acres impacts potentially all or much of the 30 plus million acres of public lands, and this is what SITLA often seemingly does not understand. They really cannot and should not be managed in complete isolation and without significant public input, even if they are not technically public lands:  because what happens on those lands impacts the general public.   And, the trust beneficiaries end up having no voice in the process whatsoever.

Sound resource management principles might indicate that any rare natural resource, whether botanical, entomological, paleobotanical, archaeological, geological, etc. all be given a least some consideration prior to an area being leased for development.  But when it comes to say rare vascular plant species, SITLA completely ignores them, unless they have an ESA status. This is not a reasonable, nor a sound, management practice.

Graham's penstemon in flower on white shales.
Photo by Robert Fitts, UNHP

The pendulum has swung too far from the school trust fund revenue approach that existed in the state of Utah prior to SITLA to one that is now overly aggressive, elitist and run with a development mentality. A better balance needs to be achieved.  SITLA wants to work unencumbered by obstacles imposed by others (as does the state in its land transfer quest).  So do dictators.

By its very actions, SITLA and the state of Utah generally, encourage more ESA listings; clearly, they are mostly not truly sincere about protecting Utah's natural resource heritage that includes our unique flora and fauna.  And they are not terribly concerned about the future health of Utah's children who supposedly are the ultimate beneficiaries of the lands that SITLA manages; only that there is a lot of money in a trust fund.

Graham's penstemon juvenile growing in loose, dense white shales
Photo by Tony Frates, UNPS

More information:

EarthJustice March 26, 2015 press release

Utah Rare Plant Guide: White River penstemon

Listen to the portion of the April 16, 2014 meeting concerning these Penstemon species including the Andrews comments quoted above:

HTML 5 media player:

If your browser does not support the above, try the Listen link below which uses the Yahoo media player:


Should agency managing Utah school trust lands answer to public?
(Brian Maffly, Salt Lake Tribune, Sept. 16, 2013)

Utah Children say, "Oil Shale Puts our Future on the Line" (video on YouTube)

Lots for Tots: How one agency is selling off Utah in the name of the children
(by Colby Frazier, Salt Lake City Weekly, January 29, 2014 cover story)

This is an excellent in-depth article (the article does misspell Uinta Basin; it is not spelled the same way as Uintah County).

Some notable quotes:

 . . . the “ravaging of our land, air and water is truly a diminishment to our children’s future,” the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance’s Markham says. “If you don’t have a healthy child, what good is education?


What the schoolchildren don’t know is that [SITLA and oil companies] are turning the Tavaputs Plateau into a wasteland,” he says. “It’s destroying our children’s future, it’s destroying our air, our water. It’s not mutually beneficial. It’s not a win-win situation.”    (John Weisheit, conservation director at Living Rivers)

SITLA responds to these sorts of statements with its usual dogma:

If we cater to all the criticism that’s out there, I think the ultimate outcome of our ability to deliver any dollars to the education fund would be damaged drastically. Collapsing to [criticism] would ultimately paralyze our ability to do anything.  (Kim Christy, SITLA’s deputy director)

SITLA and some others seem to think that we would suddenly plunge back into the dark pre-1994 savage days of "corruption" (as they refer to it) in the management of state school lands if SITLA were to be more open, more transparent, more responsible to the impacts of their projects.   Does that make any logical sense?   Which option sounds less corrupt?  There are not just two options.  SITLA could easily be more responsible, and more open.  It just doesn't want the "interference."   Yet the supposed beneficiaries of the trust is a constituency of the public.   SITLA operates in an mindset that is rife with conflicts of interest that, based on how it is currently structured, are impossible to resolve.

And as an aside, if Utah's state lands were so terribly managed financially and/or otherwise prior to 1994, and the state admitted this in creating SITLA, then how seriously can we take all of these overtures about how well Utah has managed its lands historically (and so how much better we would do without federal involvement), and how the pioneers were such great stewards. Herbert and any number of state legislators have perhaps never heard of Walter Cottam's 1947 paper, Is Utah Sahara Bound?  Ranchers/farmers have in fact more often than not degraded and mismanaged Utah's natural resources.   Like global warming, the Governor likely would say that he doesn't know whether humans caused the cheatgrass and exotic invasive species problems that we currently have or not.

Related references:

Range Plant Development In Utah: A Historical View. A history of heavy grazing and semi-arid climate have given Utah a unique challenge in developing range plants suited to the West.
(by R. Deane Harrison, N. Jerry Chatterton, E. Durant McArthur, Dan Ogle,
Kay H. Asay, and Blair L. Waldron, August 2003)

Is Utah Sahara Bound?
(by Ken Sleight  Dec-Jan 2010 The Zephyr)

July 2014 UNPS comments: Listing/critical habitat/draft economic analysis

July 2014 UNPS comments: Draft conservation agreement

July 2014 Coalition comments to proposed listing/draft conservation agreement

Graham's penstemon album on Flickr

SITLA bonus scandal of 2009:

Lawmakers riled over bonuses for trust land officials (Deseret News)

Legislative leaders outraged by land agency bonuses (Tribune)

Utah State Lawmakers Outraged Over Windfall Double Bonuses Paid To Senior SITLA Administrators; SITLA Defends Them As A Necessary Incentive (blog)


On April 3, 2015 the following Salt Lake Tribune article was published by Brian Maffly:

Suit says Fish and Wildlife sacrificing flower for oil shale

(some mostly confusing pictures that were used with a prior article also appeared with this article)

Andrews is quoted as saying that the suit misrepresents his agency's position and involved "cherry-picking" for PR purposes.   I have seen the trail of documents, the SITLA minutes, the e-mails back and forth between Andrews and many others, and participated in a conference involving Andrews, and nothing was misrepresented nor was there any cherry-picking; what was referenced in the complaint filed on March 26, 2015 is merely the tip of the iceberg involving not just Andrews and his agency but all of the participants.  At the heart of the complaint is the misapplication of Section 4 of the ESA by the FWS.  The FWS is required to make its determination based on the best available information.  Its job and the intent of the FWS not to then try to scuttle its very own listing recommendation with a last minute conservation agreement (which most certainly is exactly what this was, and for which SITLA and Uintah County paid a hefty price) and which is contrary to its own internal guidelines.  It is also not the job of the BLM to "beat listings" which it also did in this case (once again).  These are practices that must stop nationwide by both the BLM and the FWS.

Friday, February 13, 2015

More reasons to love coffee

Many studies have been recently released indicating the personal health benefits of coffee consumption at moderate levels.  But it turns out that coffee grounds may also be beneficial for your plants as well (including native plant gardens).

While coffee is acidic, those acids are largely removed in the brewing process (and are part of the beneficial health aspect of a cup of coffee).   This results in the spent grounds having a neutral pH balance, which means they can be a helpful soil amendment for plants since the grounds are not acidic.  These spent coffee grounds also contain nitrogen (although they do not initially function as a plant fertilizer).

They can also be used to help control weeds as a key mulch component.  And there are even reports that they help to deter slugs and snails.

It appears that if used appropriately, recycled coffee grounds (which can incorporate the paper filters as well) potentially have a health benefit for native plant gardens that may approach the health benefit we derive from drinking the liquid brewed from those grounds.   And those recycled grounds don't add to the size of your local landfill.

More resources:

Scientific articles/studies:

Cochran, DR, PR Knight and M Gu. 2014. Effect of spent coffee grounds on germination of palmer amaranth, perennial rye,  and white clover. SNA Research Conference Vol. 56 2011.  Available on-line at: http://www.slideshare.net/v2zq/weed-control-effect-of-spent-coffee

This study found that mulching with spent coffee grounds (SCG) resulted in fewer white clover seedlings and that is also provided an organic alternative to the use of herbicides in the container nursery industry.

Malhi, HS.  2001. Weed suppression through three mulches (subterranean clover, coffee grounds, newspaper/straw mix) on a swiss beet chard crop.  ES Senior Thesis Project.  University of California, Berkeley.  Available on-line at: http://nature.berkeley.edu/classes/es196/projects/2001final/Malhi.pdf

This conclusion of this thesis was while it was not as effective as newspaper and straw mixed (and was also more labor intensive than the foregoing), that coffee grounds can be effectively used to suppress weeds, and can often be obtained in quantity for free.










NOTE: none of the foregoing applies to single-serve cups of coffee, i.e. so-called coffee pods or K-cups (in particular the plastic kind).   These are harmful to the environment and should be avoided.

Suggestion:  initially try adding spent coffee grounds to just a few, small areas in your garden to assess  their effectiveness before widespread use.

Warning/other considerations:  the possible impact to a dog, cat or wildlife consuming a large amount of spent coffee grounds should be considered since some level of toxicity is possible depending on how much is consumed.   For this reason, it is probably not a good idea to simply spread the coffee grounds on top of the soil without working them into the soil to some degree, or without first mixing them with soil or some other additive, and not maintaining soils depths containing coffee grounds of more than say a few inches.  Compost piles or containers in which the coffee grounds are kept should be tightly secured or sealed off to the extent possible.

Postscript:  It turns out that my grandmother Sylvia highly recommended the use of spent coffee grounds which she apparently used extensively in her long, narrow backyard where she loved to garden (located near Salt Lake City's Windsor Street, meticulously arranged and care for, and of which I have fond memories).   She was doing that probably since at least the 1940's, if not earlier.   Hats off to our ancestors who learned these lessons long before us.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

College campuses: no safe haven for native plants

The construction and ultimate expansion of college campuses (and for that matter, all schools) inevitably involve some sort of impacts on formerly natural landscapes and habitat loss, often equally as severe as in any commercial project.    As institutions of higher learning and typically with large amounts of acreage, college and universities particularly have a duty to build and expand on their campuses in a responsible manner, and to try to preserve some tiny remnants of our past heritage by incorporating natural open spaces as part of their overall design, and to incorporate the use of native plant materials to the fullest extent possible in landscaped areas.

Too often however that has not been the case.  And in a number of circumstances, university campus expansion and developments have directly contributed to the increasing rarity of native plant species. 

And far too often, college campus landscaping is reduced to a monoculture of lawn grass accompanied by a plethora of introduced trees and other plant species that are largely quite contrary to their founding purpose, and therefore not only highly inappropriate but also even environmentally disastrous; not to mention costly.

A basic understanding of ecology somehow needs to be introduced into the building and expansion plans of all educational-oriented campuses and their administrators and planners, and also needs to be fully integrated into training programs for landscape architects, arborists, urban foresters, and really for anyone working with landscape design or maintenance.

Here are just a few examples of direct impacts to native plant communities that originally existed on some Nevada and Utah college campuses.  I have included some of the specific related references directly within each university topic rather than list them all at the end, with a few general references at the end.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV):  

The globally rare Las Vegas buckwheat (Eriogonum corymbosum var. nilesii) once grew on the UNLV campus.  No more.  Some 1.8 acres of its habitat there was eliminated.

Some 62% of the original range of this species has been lost.  Of 12 recognized populations (all in Nevada; this entity does not occur in Utah), three populations have been lost.

More information:

US. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2014. Species report for Eriogonum corymbosum var. nilesii (Las Vegas buckwheat). Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office.  55 pp. Available on-line at: http://www.fws.gov/nevada/nv_species/documents/lv_buckwheat/20140909_ercon_species_report_final.pdf 

(see Table 2, page 15 concerning the 1.83 acres that was extirpated at UNLV)

Utah State University (USU):

We often think that rare plants only grow in some far off, desolate location.  Not true. The Logan buckwheat (Eriogonum brevicaule var. loganum, syn. E. loganum) is mainly a low elevation plant which grew primarily on the benches of Cache Valley (but with also some disjunct occurrences), and near the USU campus. 

As told by the late* Dr. James L. Reveal:

"This plant is well known to hundreds, if not thousands, of Utah State students for at one time the plant was common on "smoker's hill" at the south edge of campus.  Recent construction of parking lots in this area has essentially destroyed the type population and now only a few scattered plants remain."  (Holmgren 2012, p. 280)

See also Dr. Reveal's discussion also here where he reiterates that  the parking lot construction almost extirpated this scientifically important occurrence of a globally rare taxon:

More information/comments:

Utah rare plant guide PDF (for Eriogonum brevicaule var. loganum)

*Sadly Dr. Reveal died quite recently, on January 9, 2015

**Based on newer DNA evidence, Reveal did place this taxon back within the Eriogonum brevicaule complex for the 2012 treatment of the Polygonaceae in the final volume of the Intermountain Flora series (Holmgren 2012).  Also, the posting date of the link to plantsystematics.org  was made in 2003, so the reference to "recent" parking lot construction is at least now somewhat dated.

Weber State (WSU):

A pipeline was built through a portion of the campus in 2012 for which WSU trustees approved an easement in 2011.   Administrators there saw the water pipeline there as a way to potentially fuel future campus growth.   After residents started to complain about the scar on the foothills that are inevitable with pipeline projects (and which always cause irreversible damage), a city engineer was quoted as saying that "Much of the vegetation will grow back naturally. . .  but the city will also use a U.S. Forest Service-approved seed mix to stimulate regrowth." 

City engineers are typically ill-qualified to make revegetation assessments.   Historically there have been few things more scary than a Forest Service, BLM or USDA "approved seed mix."   But that aside, in fact, this project has left in its wake a scourge of mainly non-native grasses including the dreaded Secale cereale which has formed vast, devastating swaths of monocultures in counties along the Wasatch Front (including Salt Lake, Davis and Weber Cos).  Lost were a variety of indigenous forbs and grasses including plants of the somewhat state rare Scutellaria antirrhinoides, known in Utah known along the Wasatch Front only in Weber and Morgan counties (and, also known in Utah from Duchesne Co., although the Duchesne plants may warrant separate taxonomic recognition (Welsh 2008)).

More information:

University of Utah (U of U):

The lower campus at the University of Utah contained one or more populations of the now highly state rare Viola beckwithii.  This we know for certain based on a photograph taken by the legendary University of Utah botanist/ecologist Dr. Walter P. Cottam.   Natural space however was not protected or preserved in any fashion as the university expanded, and this habitat was soon lost and in fact not until May of 2008 was a tiny population discovered in Red Butte Garden's natural space (technically within the University of Utah campus, but at much higher elevation). V. beckwithii had not been observed or collected by scientists since 1950 in Salt Lake or Davis counties until the 2008 discovery, the future survival of which remains very much in doubt.

Doc Cottam himself fought to save at least some natural features on campus (and hence "Cottam's Gulch" on the lower campus behind the old museum location, but which today still only faintly bares resemblance of what it once must have looked like).   Inclusion of natural open space in a campus located adjacent to natural space has not been on the university's radar for the most part.  The campus is mostly covered in lawn grass and non-indigenous species in its general landscaping.

Perhaps the worst example of poor vision in this regard relates to Research Park founded in 1968, which is owned and administered by the University of Utah.   Located immediately adjacent to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and foothill benches, it has been quickly filled with buildings surrounded by lawn grass.  Colony after colony of native Gambel's oak have been removed; and that continues to be the case.

Utah Valley University (UVU):

One estimate places the loss of wetlands in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to be from 30% to 36%  during the period of 1780 to 1980  (AmphibiaWeb 2015).   Losses along the Wasatch Front have been much worse, and continue.

The UVU (formerly UVSC) campus contained a small wetlands area adjoining the western edge of the campus.  Here various botanists including the late, great Dr. Kimball T. Harper recorded marsh plants that are fast disappearing from the Wasatch Front including Asclepias incarnata, Verbena hastata, Sagittaria cuneata, Bidens cernua, Cyperus esculentus var. leptostachyus, and many others.   UVU has a "botany club" and many excellent botany instructors, and this area helped to serve an important and convenient educational need.

Yet despite objections made by some faculty members, this area was eradicated  in favor of athletic fields.

More information/references:

AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. 2015. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: http://amphibiaweb.org/. (Accessed: Feb 3, 2015).  See specifically:  http://amphibiaweb.org/declines/HabFrag.html

Dixie State University (Dixie):

The St. George LDS temple was the first such temple built in Utah.  Construction began in 1871 and was completed in 1875 (and dedicated in 1877).   And remarkably, with improvements over the years, it is still there. Dixie State University is located a half-mile due east of the temple. 

When pioneering medical doctor/botanist Dr. Charles C. Parry visited (and stayed with) St. George resident Joseph E. Johnson from about from early April to late June of 1874, he collected many new things previously unknown to modern plant taxonomy.  One of these species (besides  the rare and endangered species later recognized as Arctomecon humilis) was a shrub that was ultimately named after him, Petalonyx parryi.

Parry's own account of finding this plant in the St. George area:

"A diligent search over the dry gravelly and alkaline soil, where it was found associated with the common 'grease woods' of this region, failed to bring to light any other plants, so that this single locality, precariously situated within a stone's throw of the great Mormon temple, does not encourage the hope of a prolonged existence for the benefit of future botanists."  (Parry 1875, p. 144)

In 1988, Dr. Stanley Welsh indicated that while the type above had since been eradicated, it was "locally common" (a term used by botanist/taxonomists that is often not understood by others and does not mean a species is common and/or not rare and/or not in need of consideration) east of Washington, Utah.    

That area has since rapidly changed, and Petalonyx parryi occurences in the vicinity have greatly suffered. Yet, unfortunately in the Southern Corridor highway project, the FHWA failed to consider impacts to Petalonyx parryi (despite protestations from the Utah Native Plant Society) because of the reference by Welsh  to it being "locally common" even though by 2008 Welsh indicated:

"Certainly much of the prime habitat near St. George has been obliterated and is beneath developments.  One can no longer find it within a "stone's throw" of the great Mormon temple, or even within gunshot of that edifice."  (Welsh 2008, p. 499)

P. parryi grows on soils with high gypsum content and does not grow in conjunction with "greasewoods."   The plant that Parry found was likely a waif (Parry only found one shrub) that had managed to survive on the outer limits of nearby habitat to the east (and closer to where Dixie State University was constructed in the 1960's).   Today P. parryi is on the BLM state sensitive species list, and has been ranked as "High" in priority by the Utah Native Plant Society's rare plant committee.

By the time Dixie started to be built, perhaps any remaining straggling plants relating to P. parryi were gone; but it is likely that if they were still there, that they too were built over.  

More information/comments/references:

Parry, CC.  1875.  Botanical observations in Southern Utah, II.  Amer. Naturalist 9:139-146.

Welsh, S.  1988.  Charles Christopher Parry.  Great Basin Naturalist 48(1):9-18.

Parry's petalonyx picture and habitat loss east of St. George

Utah rare plant guide PDF (for Petalonyx parryi)

In referring to "grease woods" it is possible the Parry was including a dominant shrub in the area within that term, i.e. Cresote bush, Larrea tridentata, even though it is not a "greasewood."  So far in his published lists, I have not yet been able to find a collection that he made of either Creosote bush or of a true greasewood (Sarcobatus) during his time in the St. George, Utah area during the spring of 1874 which is surprising (perhaps too common?).   Rare plants in the area are typically not associated with Larrea and only occasionally with Sarcobatus.

General references:

Holmgren, NH, PK Holmgren, JL Reveal and others. 2012. Intermountain flora: Vascular plants of the Intermountain West, U.S.A. Vol. 2A, Subclass Magnoliidae-Caryophyllidae. Bronx, New York: The New York Botanical Garden. 731 pp.

Welsh, SL, ND Atwood, S Goodrich, and LC Higgins [eds]. 2008. A Utah flora, fourth edition, revised. 2004-2008 summary monograph. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University. 1019 pp.