Nature

Protecting the wilderness of Utah

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One of the saddest things in the world is the necessity to protect wilderness from people. Companies are ready to go into the wild and ravage it if there isn’t a law that protects that part of the land. Those laws prevent companies from destroying everything in their path in the name of profit.

There is a current bill before the U.S. House and Senate that would designate thousands of acres of southern Utah land as wilderness. What originally started out as “America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act” has morphed to include some 10 million acres around the state.

The act would lock up a large portion of land, including 58,000 acres adjacent to Zion National Park, plus an additional 300,000 acres throughout southeast Utah. Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, designated land would have prohibited activities, including use of motorized vehicles and mountain bikes. No roads would be permitted on the land, only trails for hiking. I’m not opposed to preservation when it is done right.

People behind the bill

When I first heard about this bill, I was curious to see who was sponsoring such a giant leap of conservation. On closer examination, the Senate version was introduced into the current Congressional session by Dick Durbin of Illinois and is co-sponsored by 14 other senators, none of who are from Utah. The co-sponsors read like a who’s who of Senate power players, such as the two senators from California, Boxer and Feinstein, the two from Massachusetts, Kennedy and Kerry; there’s also Patrick Leahy and Hillary Clinton on the list as well.

My curiosity began to get the best of me, so I called our two Utah senators. I asked their staff why the legislators weren’t co-sponsoring the bill when it specifically affects their represented area. I got a pretty clear-cut answer from Mary Collipriest in Sen. Bennett’s office. “It’s not something we will support,” adding that she wasn’t sure Sen. Durbin had ever even been to Utah. “We will not support wilderness designation in other states, so senators from other states should not support legislation for ours.”

From Sen. Hatch’s office I got much the same answer from Adam Elggren. “Sen. Hatch realizes there is some land that needs to be designated as wilderness, but this is the exact wrong way of going about it.”

Not only will our senators not be a part of the bill, but also their input was never even sought by Sen. Durbin when he wrote the piece of legislation, said Elggren.

What is wrong with all of this?

WildernessAll 14 Senators in support of the wilderness designation sit on the Democratic side of the aisle. In the House, Congressman Matheson has seen so much controversy surrounding the bill, he doesn’t want to support it either. The same goes for Utah Representatives Rob Bishop and Chris Cannon.

What’s wrong with this picture? No one from Utah is supportive of a bill in the House or Senate that would lock up approximately 10 million acres of land as wilderness, but everyone else, including leaders from California, New York and Massachusetts, are quick to speak on our behalf.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a conservation group, would not return my calls, but made a statement on their Web site that “Citizens outside of Utah who love and treasure this amazing landscape have every right to demand its protection.” I disagree.

People outside of Utah are more than welcome to enjoy the beautiful scenery, but when it comes to control of our land, we should be the ones to make that decision. The truth of the matter is, some of the land in the proposed wilderness area is school trust land. Money that helps support the state education system is supported by these lands, which are often leased to oil, gas and other mining companies. Those lease dollars support education, but if trust land is locked up in a wilderness area, that would prevent any mining, making the trust land virtually worthless unless exchanged with other federal land, which is shrinking as well.

Wilderness is a wonderful thing, but its planning and execution needs to have local input.

Firestorms and hurricanes – Fighting the nature

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Firestorms and hurricanes – Fighting the nature

Every year greets us with a record-breaking number of hurricanes, fires, and droughts all across the USA. Every year firefighters have to face everything that nature throws at them with all they got to prevent the loss of property and lives.

The continuous fight against nature’s forces people to grow up differently than anyone else that doesn’t have to face danger every summer. People who grow up fighting hurricanes tend to be robust individuals who dedicate their lives to ensuring that everyone else is saved. Whenever you see a headline which states that a Hurricane fire chief hangs his helmet, you should read the said article. Those are the people who chose to risk their lives on a daily basis so everyone else could live without any worries.

The year when everything escalates

Firestorms and hurricanes 2018 is a year in which we will see the escalation of nature’s wrath. People are still reluctant to accept that climate change plays a big part in everything that is happening. But that doesn’t matter for people who have to fight the elements. Their job is to go out there and try to prevent further damage by nature.

Midwest and West of the USA experience an increasing number of wildfires on a yearly basis. The intensity of the same is increasing as well. Preventing these occurrences has mixed results. Firefighters can prevent wildfires through education of the children and teens. This education reduces the number of fires in nature as young people learn how devastating their actions can be. The sad thing is that is the only way that firefighters can prevent nature from destroying everything people build. The majority of natural disasters that occur are the result of natural phenomena, and thus people can’t do anything but fight them once they happen.

People who stand in the first line of fire

Firefighters are people who stand in the first line of fire whenever nature throws something us. The majority of firefighters are volunteers, with only a small portion of firefighter force being pros. But, those professional firefighters spend a significant part of their lives in the headquarters, waiting for the call to go out and fight the elements.

However, it’s impossible for professional firefighters to fight huge wildfires and to deal with the outcome of hurricanes without assistance from volunteers. People who choose to volunteer on helping others after or during a disaster are also heroes who should be praised for their work. They risk their lives (on some occasions), without getting paid, to help people deal with the aftermath of major natural disasters and they play a significant role in fighting wildfires.

Honoring firefighter chiefs that retire after decades of service is one of the ways we can thank them and their peers for their work.

Fawcett – Building an ant empire

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Fawcett - Building an ant empire

“A customer is always right” is a saying that explains that you should do everything to satisfy customer’s needs. The problem arises when a customer asks for something you know nothing about. Satisfying a customer is a must even if you have to go back to basics and learn about something from scratch.

Fawcett’s story – “How ants saved my family”

“We’re thinking of making an ant farm. Some of our customers have been asking about it. We know nothing about it, but we need a supplier who can supply ants for us.” The request came from one of Fawcett’s customers in New York, a wholesaler to Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward.

At the time Fawcett was selling rocks to collectors all over the United States, but things were slow and his family was ready to starve. The ants took on a sudden appeal.

“Well, there are plenty of ants around. I don’t know what you’re looking for,” Fawcett said.

“The best workers, that you’ll put them in sand and they’ll dig,” came the reply.

Fawcett set out to gather his first batch of ants. “I went around the whole county, gathered up ants in different colonies and sent them to Utah State University and they identified them for me. Then I experimented with them,” said Fawcett.

Fawcett found that the type of ant that built the best tunnels was also the most common ant in southern Utah. It was also the ant people hated the most and wanted to get rid of.

Fawcett called his buyer and announced that he’d found the ants for their ant farms. The buyer was excited by the news but wary. Were there really enough ants in southern Utah to fill the potential orders? A representative from Sears in Chicago quickly came to investigate.

“I took him out in the fields. I had to prove to him that there were enough ants – that we wouldn’t run out” said Fawcett.

One look around was all the man needed. “Let’s go for it,” he said.

The expansion of business

A few months later the ant farms were in production. Stores would sell the farms with a certificate for ants included. The new farm owner would fill out the certificate and send it back in. Those requests were forwarded to Fawcett. Every couple of days, Fawcett received thousands of requests. Armed with this glass pint jar and a funnel, Fawcett would funnel 40 or 50 ants into a small plastic vial and ship the order out. Ants from Hurricane were soon considered pets of people all across the United States.

Ant farmAfter four or five years Fawcett received another request. The largest manufactures of ant farms in the country had lost his supplier and wanted Fawcett to take over. After working out the terms, Fawcett began shipping from 100,000 to 200,000 ants per week to this new contact. The wholesaler supplied all the materials needed, from the plastic vials to shipping envelopes, and Fawcett recruited his wife and children to help keep up with the demand.

Able to live only a week confined in a bottle, the ants had to be gathered, sorted and shipped quickly. “They will dehydrate from lack of moisture faster than they will eating,” said Fawcett. “These things hibernate all winter long and eat very little of anything.”

Fawcett has grown older and now only ships the ants to large suppliers who then ship the ants to schools. His son, Kent has taken over the largest portion of the ant business.

A man of many hobbies

Fawcett is not just enamored with ants, he’s also an avid rock collector, flower collector and fossil hunter.

For years Fawcett has gotten up early in the morning and made the trek into the hills to gather wildflowers that he can press and sell to wholesalers across the country. His pressed flowers have been made into framed art, pendants, bracelets and rings. He’s sold everything from wheat grass along the highway to the shooting star, a flower that only blooms once every ten to 15 years and is only found at 10,000 ft. elevation in the swamps.

AntDuring his rock explorations, Fawcett found a very rare collection of flower agate from the dessert floor, which is now under Sand Hollow Reservoir. The white bursts inside the rock resemble delicate white flowers trapped in glass. It is one of Fawcett’s most prized finds.

Of all the nature projects Fawcett has been involved in over the years, he admits that his favorite has not been his ant collecting. It’s been gathering wildflowers. Fawcett has a permit from the forest service to cut wildflowers on public land, and he also has his own private wildflower garden in his backyard.

Fawcett has grown older and turned various portions of his business over to his sons, but at 79 years old, he still has the energy to spend eight to 12 hours every day hard at work, and he’s still making new discoveries.

What is Fawcett working on at the moment?

His latest venture is a “living fossil.” At first believed to be the ancient trilobite, this tiny tadpole shrimp lays its eggs in the sand beside pools of water. Despite temperature changes and long periods of time without water, these miniscule eggs come right back to life after they’re exposed to water.
Fawcett knows just where the eggs are most likely to be found, and he gathers them, packages them with a combination of different dirt and sells them to wholesalers. In 24-36 hours of saturation, the tadpole shrimp hatches and quickly matures.

Fawcett may be slowly backing away from his ant days, but the story will never rest. Fawcett has been featured in the National Enquirer, the Salt Lake Tribune, Career World and People Magazine, among many others. He’s also been asked to appear on the Johnny Carson Show, Jay Leno and David Letterman, though he refused them all.

Zion National Park – A success story

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Zion National Park – A success story

Every area that receives the title of a national park contains ecosystems that must be protected from human influence. Many of those national parks are worth the visit as they include things you won’t find anywhere else. Zion National Park is a proof that nature needs to be protected as well as the fact that such protection can bring tourists that are interested in it.

According to Ron Terry, chief of interpretation and visitor services at Zion National Park, approximately 2.5 million people visit Zion National Park each season. Twenty to twenty-five percent of those people are international visitors.

Zion is unique in its close proximity to two other national parks, located between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon in a series of stair-stepped plateaus known as the Grand Staircase. Zion is an ancient Hebrew word used to describe a dry, rocky place of holy sanctuary in ancient Israel.

The history of the area

Zion National ParkThere is evidence dating back 9,000 years of Indian groups who once inhabited the area which is now Zion National Park. Petroglyphs, which were chiseled into the rock, still remain. The first known people to inhabit the area of Zion were referred to as the Basket Makers. At some point, their lifestyle became more stationary. Around that time, the Anasazi, or the Ancestral Puebloans, appeared. They grew corn, squash, and beans along the banks of the Virgin River. The Anasazi inexplicably left the area around 1200 AD.

Inhabiting the area at the same time as the Anasazi was another cultural group called the Fremont Culture. They also left the area around 1200 AD.
The first recorded visit by people of European descent to southwestern Utah was in 1776. The Dominguez-Escalante expedition came within 20 miles of Zion Canyon. Later, after founding Salt Lake City in 1847, Mormon scouts were looking to establish a settlement corridor to California. Mormon scout Nephi Johnson entered Zion Canyon in 1858 and is considered the first non-Indian to do so.

President William Howard Taft set aside the canyon area as Mukuntuweap National Monument. Munkuntuweap was interpreted as a Paiute word meaning “straight canyon.”  In 1918, the locally unpopular name was changed to Zion, and in 1919, the area was made into a national park.

Terry, who has worked in several national parks said, “Each one of the national parks areas, whether it’s a national park, national monument or national seashore, are all parts of the national park system. In order to be designated a unit of the national parks system, there has to be some kind of significance to that place that makes it special, something that needs to be protected and preserved for posterity. There are really two groups of people that work for the National Park Service. There are those that get attached to a particular park and stay there for their entire career. Then there are others like myself who want to experience as much as they can. Zion, in terms of visuals, is certainly the most spectacular of the parks that I have worked in.”

Attracting tourists to a national park

In the early days of the national parks, there was an attempt to get people to visit the parks to see the natural wonders. “The National Park Service in the early years formed an alliance with the railroad,” Terry said. “Railroads would build lines to bring people into the park or at least nearby. In the case of Zion, in 1923, a spur line of the Union Pacific Railroad was completed to Cedar City. They would bring them in by train and bus them or coach them into the park. When they brought them into the park, there was a need for lodging.”

Engineers had to devise a way to connect the wild and remote areas between Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. They looked at two or three different ways to construct a road out of Zion Canyon. According to Terry, the project started in 1927, and involved the construction of a 1.1-mile tunnel through Navajo Sandstone and a winding road with switchbacks.

The trail that goes up to Angels Landing is the West Rim Trail. Terry said that the section of the trail called Walter’s Wiggles was named after Walter Ruesch, the first acting superintendent of Zion. The trail was finished in 1927. “It was his idea to put those switchbacks on the trail so people could get up to the top,” Terry said.  “Other trails have been here for a long time. We probably wouldn’t build trails like that today because it took a lot of work, and in some cases, there was some blasting required.”

What you can see in the Zion National Park

Zion National ParkThe park is home to more than 900 plant species, 78 species of mammals, 290 species of birds, 44 species of reptiles and amphibians and eight species of fish. Some of these are on the endangered species list, including the Mexican Spotted Owl, Southwest Willow Flycatcher and Desert Tortoise. Rare species include the Zion Snail, Virgin Spinedace and the Peregrine Falcon. According to Terry, approximately 20 to 30 mountain lions roam the park.

During the peak season, the park employs approximately 200 people, not counting the people who work at the lodge for Xanterra Parks and Resorts. Park rangers do everything from guided walks, working the gate, law enforcement in the park, search and rescue and also encouraging young people through the Jr. Ranger program.

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