April 2019

Hello Folks,

Our work at Yellowstone to Uintas Connection (Y2U) continues to have significant positive impacts for fish and wildlife in the Yellowstone to Uintas wildlife Corridor.  It's been a long winter here in Northern Utah but spring finally appears to be on its way!  We are excited to escape the office and get back into the field this coming summer.

Y2U continues to submit scoping comments on Forest Service and BLM decisions, provide feedback on agency monitoring protocols, and works towards creative solutions to help these underfunded agencies accomplish their stated conservation and restoration goals.  We have recently submitted comments on five Draft Environmental Impact Statements, including one on a proposed new natural gas pipeline, Long Valley Energy's Crow Creek Pipeline, three on proposed new phosphate mines, Simplot's East Smoky Canyon Mine, Bayer's Caldwell Canyon Mine, and Simplot's Dairy Syncline Mine and one Forest Service timber project, the John Wood Vegetation Management Project.  The complete comments submitted on each of these projects can be found by clicking on the project link or by going to our web page,www.yellowstoneuintas.org.

Y2U is actively engaged in efforts to stay educated on current land management science. We work diligently to attend conferences, review relevant publications and meet with agency personnel to learn the current science on wildlands fire, vegetation management and related topics. Y2U staff attended several  follow-up meetings with Forest Service silviculturists to gain a deeper understanding of forest restoration needs that have resulted from 50 years of fire suppression. Our goal is to ensure that the feedback we provide to agencies is constructive and well-informed by the best available science.

We conclude that these mining projects continue to be an experiment with undetermined results. Past mines surely had models and made claims regarding their efficacy, yet selenium pollution still occurred in streams due to inadequate environmental protection measures and apparent failures in analysis and design. These mining proposals also necessitate extended review for organizations to give proper feedback. Unfortunately, shortened comment periods are the new normal under the Trump administration.  The expansion of mining activity in this regionally significant wildlife corridor will negatively impact habitat for wildlife including sage grouse, big game, lynx, wolverine, birds, and fish. The Draft Environmental Impact Statements for these mine expansions fail to take into account the impacts of logging and vegetation removal on climate change, negative impacts on air quality, mining related seismic activity, ground and surface water pollution, noise, and the loss of hunting and fishing opportunities. Furthermore, the area around these proposed mines is already deemed a Superfund Site subject to Natural Resource Damages from past and/or ongoing mining pollution.  Y2U will continue to monitor the situation and work with public lands agencies to suggest further analysis and mitigation efforts to minimize the impact on habitat, fish, and wildlife.

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Y2U continues to attend all public meetings regarding the development of the Bear River. We are resisting plans for developing dams on Bonneville cutthroat trout streams in the Bear River Range and on the Bear River itself. In the spring of 2017, PacifiCorp (the largest dam operator on the Bear River) proposed raising Cutler Dam in Cache County by 3 feet to provide more hydroelectricity generation and water storage capacity. In August of 2018 Y2U secured the funding needed for a GIS analysis on the area potentially impacted by the proposal. We have hired a leading expert in GIS Analysis and expect to have the analysis finished by the end of April.  There are concerns that the project will inundate productive farmland and crucial wetland habitat in Cache County. Additionally, questions have arisen as to how this will compound the drying up of the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem and what adverse effects the project may have on Cache County road infrastructure and Logan City’s sewage treatment facility. Y2U is seeking connections with Cache County, Logan City and a local farmer group to continue monitoring this project.

Y2U also continues to monitor the activities of the newly formed Cache Water District and will oppose any new dams on the Bear River or it's tributaries, including the Logan River.

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Data collected on the BLM’s Duck Creek Allotment for the past 13 years by Dr. John Carter, Y2U staff ecologist, has demonstrated that the BLM methods do not provide an objective and accurate depiction of rangeland health conditions or livestock forage consumption. For the past year and a half Y2U has attempted to address this concern by becoming involved with a collaboration to monitor utilization and analyze stocking rates on the Duck Creek allotment. The participants included BLM, Utah Grazing Improvement Program, Utah State University Ag Extension, Rich County Commissioners, Rich County Resource Management Group, Duck Creek permittees, Wild Utah Project, Western Watersheds Project and Y2U.  Unfortunately, due to the lack of trust stemming from past litigation between the involved parties and an unwillingness to work in an honest manner, this group has dissolved.  Y2U has asked the BLM to participate in an evaluation of their monitoring methods regardless of the outcome of the collaboration.

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In the fall of 2018 Y2U monitored water quality at three locations within the Bear River Watershed. We selected these locations based on 2017 sampling results which identified three streams as areas of concern. All three of these locations have once again shown elevated E. coli levels that exceed state water quality standards for recreational contact.  Y2U monitoring efforts over the past two years have demonstrated that cattle grazing on Forest Service cattle allotments is causing an exceedance of Utah and Idaho E. coli water quality standards. Each of the Utah samples were taken on a creek listed as a class 2B Contact Recreation stream in the Utah Administrative Code (Rule R317-2. Standards of Quality for Waters of the State). In accordance with this classification, the criteria were violated at both Millville Canyon and North Rich sample sites during the 2018 sample period. The Paris Canyon site is located along Paris Creek, which is designated as a Primary Contact Recreation water body. In accordance with this classification, the Idaho state water quality standards were violated at the Paris Canyon sample site during the 2018 sample period. The Utah sample sites were sampled and reported as violating state water quality standards during the summer 2018 E. coli investigation conducted by Y2U. We are currently working on getting the Paris Canyon investigation results submitted to Idaho.  

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Private land makes up a significant portion of the Corridor and represents an opportunity to establish positive working relationships with those who work on these lands for their livelihood. Y2U received the final GIS analysis that was funded through a joint grant proposal with project partner Wild Utah Project. This GIS analysis completed by Wild Utah Project determined key wildlife impedance points, as well as bottlenecks, in a portion of the corridor occurring south of Caribou County in Idaho and North of Davis County in Utah stretching East to Mountain View, Wyoming. We are especially interested in how these impedances and bottlenecks overlay with private land. This will help inform our Landowner Conservation Campaign where we will help procure funding, expertise and other resources for private landowners to install wildlife friendly fencing and riparian area exclosures, assist with conservation easement procurement, and implement other regenerative ranching practices that benefit wildlife.  Y2Us staff and board recently took a tour of the Lonetree Ranch, near Mountain View, Wyoming.  Dr. Robert Taylor has implemented many of the above listed practices on his deeded property and we will be working closely with them in 2019 to assure that their public land allotments in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and BLM ground are grazed according to standards. We will be meeting again in April to assess how we can perform utilization monitoring together as well as monitoring unauthorized use of the High Uinta Wilderness together. We are very excited for this opportunity to work directly with the permittee to come up with solutions that work for both stakeholders.  We expect to have great results come out of this unexpected partnership.

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We look forward to continuing our work on our National Forest Route Closure Project, High Uinta Wilderness Cattle Monitoring and Uinta Range and Bear River Range Grazing Allotment Utilization Monitoring this summer.  We will highlight more of these projects in the next newsletter.

Until next time, 

Jason Christensen
Director