The Alton Coal Mine and southern Utah’s future

ID 106972433 © Paul Brady |


By Sharon St Joan


Will the Alton Coal Mine be allowed to expand?



This month, August 2018, the Bureau of Land management is expected to let us know whether the Alton Coal mine, near Alton, Utah, will be allowed to expand on to 2,305 acres of public land.


580 new jobs?


In announcing that they’ve completed their Final Environmental Impact Statement, the BLM quotes several state and local officials.


Expressing their enthusiasm for the coal mine expansion, these officials call Alton coal “an economic engine” and tout the promise of 100 new jobs at the mine and the indirect creation of as many as 480 jobs. These figures may or may not be true, but we’ll assume that they are.


Let’s start by acknowledging that jobs are important. Every one of us needs a source of income from somewhere.  We cannot live on air alone.  So, jobs and a source of livelihood for people to be able to support their families are not something to be sniffed at. Whether they are five jobs or 500, or 5,000 jobs, they are important.


But there are jobs that foster economic growth and jobs that undermine our current and future economy.


The problem arises when the industry that creates jobs also harms the existing economic base – in other words, industrialization tends to destroy the natural beauty of this magnificent area, where our economy depends on tourism.


Coal jobs threaten, and ultimately destroy, tourism jobs.  The creeping wheels of industrialization are on a track to make Kane County a place that no one wants to visit.


If we stick to the facts, we can have a look at the underlying reasons why creating coal mining jobs isn’t good for anybody.  Not good for those who need a job and not good for anybody else either.

Is coal mining an “economic engine”?


Utahns work at many different kinds of jobs, notably in the tourist industry. According to a Salt Lake Tribune article, by Mike Gorrell, on March 23, 2018 (see below for the link), in 2017, the leisure and hospitality sector (i.e. tourism) “grew by 8,400 positions, a 6 percent uptick.” My math isn’t always very good, but you can check it. If 6 percent is 8,400 jobs, then 100 percent is 140,000 jobs – all related to tourism in Utah.


Compare 140,000 tourism jobs to the number of coal mining jobs and support jobs provided by the coal industry. An article by the Utah Foundation (see the link below) gives the number of direct coal jobs in Utah at 2,500. Added to this are several thousand trucking and other support jobs – which comes out to just a tiny fraction of the number of jobs from tourism. Coal as a source of jobs in Utah is dwarfed by tourism-related jobs.


If coal mining had no environmental impact and only created some good paying jobs with no detrimental effects, one would certainly say, “Why not?” After all, a few thousand jobs are still a few thousand jobs.



Coal mining destroys tourism – and the world of nature too.


ID 73077111 © Philip Bird |


But that is not at all the reality of the situation. Utah is one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on the planet. Coal mining destroys this natural beauty.


The overwhelming majority of us do care about natural beauty, but even if we didn’t, we could see that coal mining negatively impacts the economy by harming the beauty of nature and thereby making Utah a less desirable place to live or to visit.


Utah’s national parks alone bring at least 8 million visitors a year, with Zion National Park drawing four and a half million visitors from all over the world in 2017, and Bryce Canyon drawing around half that. (I’m not advocating an infinite number of park visitors, that would have a downside too, but that’s another story). Tourism is the real basis of our economy in southern Utah.


The expansion of the Alton Coal Mine will be taking place just ten miles from Bryce Canyon. This mining will destroy the land and leave an ugly scarred landscape in its place. This is not private land that we are talking about, it is public land – where we might have hoped that wildlife and wild lands would be a priority. (Sadly, this is far from the case.)


The red rock country of Utah with its magnificent cliffs and spires and its unimaginable, breath-taking beauty is a priceless treasure. These lands are among the last remaining relatively untouched and unspoiled lands on earth.


They are also the key to our economy.


 Setting our house on fire?


ID 49290871 © Delstudio |


The wild lands of Utah are valuable beyond any measure that can be used to put a price on them. Yet, even using the reasoning of the pocket book, destroying them is not a good investment. It is like setting our house on fire in order to keep warm in the winter. It’s just not a good idea, because then we will have no more house to live in.


Destroying the God-given wealth of these extraordinary lands, unmatched anywhere else on earth, will not only notbring more prosperity to Utah, instead it will bring a great, gaping loss that nothing can bring back.


Coal mining is a polluting industry. There is no “clean coal.” There is no way to extract coal from the ground that does not irrevocably destroy the land – in practical terms, forever.


What is euphemistically called “reclamation” takes decades, is dependent on the good will (and continued existence) of the coal company and can never bring back the ancient crusted soils that took thousands of years to form, or the fragile native grasses and other plant life that used to be there – or the great, amazing abundance of wild birds and mammals that were present.  When they are gone, they are just gone.


And what will we be left with? A ruined landscape. You can drive up to Alton, to the lands that have already been mined and see for yourself.


 Drinking water for people and animals


 Sharon St Joan wild lands south of Bryce, in the path of the expanding coal mine..JPG


The hidden damage is much worse. One of the tributaries to Kanab Creek has already been displaced. Because Alton is to the north of us, and the drinking water that we use travels down from the north before it reaches us; this water will be increasingly polluted. Regardless of whether it is the water from Kanab Creek, or from natural springs, or from wells, or whether it is water that trickles slowly down through the rocks over a number of years, it doesn’t matter, the harm is the same.


All the drinking water for Kanab travels down from the north around the region of Alton. It will all be polluted by more coal mining. This is not only our own water, it is also the water that the deer, the foxes, the birds, the trees, dogs and cats, cows and horses, and all other living beings depend on for survival.


An article on the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists (see the link below) talks about water pollution caused by coal mining – and the contamination of nearby streams with “highly acidic water containing heavy metals like arsenic, copper, and lead” stating that the pH from these run-offs can reach the same levels as vinegar.


Poisoning our own water is bad enough, but we are also contaminating the water used by the birds and animals who have done nothing to deserve this fate.


 Faulty logic


IMG_7798.JPGSharon St Joan, a stream south of Bryce Canyon


To say that expanding the Alton Coal mine will bring a gain of a few hundred jobs, and that this will be good for the economy of southern Utah is faulty logic. Thus “gain” is not a gain at all. It will come only at the expense of losing a thriving tourist economy – because no tourists will ever come to visit coal mines. It will harm our lives and our existence, and we will have far fewer jobs, not more – as well as far fewer visitors. Coal mining, along with other industrialization that we haven’t even touched on, will harm some of the most beautiful lands on the planet – where it is a great blessing to be able to live.


Our prosperity depends on preserving, not destroying, our wild lands. For that reason, if for no other, we need to protect them.


It is only by protecting and valuing the natural world and the amazing life of this most beautiful region of the earth, that there will be any real or lasting prosperity. This is the long-term investment that we need to make.


I agree, with probably most of us, that it is too late to stop this tragedy from happening. It is on a train that isn’t likely to stop.


But it is a great shame if we stand by watching in silence, as if we have lost our voices, while the wild lands of this region, among the most magnificent lands that have ever existed on the planet earth, are worn away, bit by bit by bit, by the great machine of industrialization. The expansion of the Alton Coal Mine is likely to be only the beginning – the foot in the door.


We can speak up – to our officials, to our community, to our next-door neighbor, or to the stars over our heads. We should not remain silent.


To put it very bluntly, killing the earth is a bad idea – which will kill us too, sooner or later, but, even just economically – it’s a really bad idea.




The BLM announcement:


 The article in the Salt Lake Tribune by Mike Gorrell, published March 23, 2018, giving statistics for tourism:


Utah Foundation article, on the coal economy:


 The article on the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists about water pollution caused by coal mining:




Top photo: © Paul Brady | / Bryce Canyon.


Second photo: © Philip Bird | / Bryce Canyon.


 Third photo: © Delstudio | / A pronghorn at Bryce Canyon.


Fourth photo: © Sharon St Joan / Wild lands south of Bryce Canyon in the path of the expanding coal mine.


Fifth photo: © Sharon St Joan / A stream south of Bryce Canyon.


© Sharon St Joan, 2018



15 minutes of the beauty of Grand Staircase-Escalante




Preview YouTube video Artist in Residence: Grand Staircase-Escalante National MonumentArtist in Residence: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument


Sadly, this Monument has now been cut into three small monuments, totaling only half its former size, and opening one million acres of once-protected lands to mining, fracking, and other industrialization. A court case has been filed to re-instate the Monument.

We each need to continue to speak up in defense of our wild lands before they are all gone.

Photographer: John Fowler /  Wikipedia / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license./ Metate Arch in Grand Staircase-Escalante national Monument

Thanks to Carolyn Shelton for sending this video and for her role in its creation.

How many more should we kill? – A wider view.


By Sharon St Joan

Caution: Some content may be disturbing.

The comment period for the draft Predator Damage Management in Utah 2018 ends today, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. This draft covers Wildlife Services’ 2018 plan for killing predators in order to prevent damage caused by wildlife.

 To read it and send a comment, please go to

Here is the comment that I sent – please do not copy the wording, but you may make use of any of the thoughts and ideas, if you wish:


As an American and a Utah resident, I oppose the ongoing destruction of Utah’s wild lands and the wild animals that live there.


One does not need to be a scientist to understand that the killing by cyanide of coyote and cougar pups in their dens is wrong, cruel, and misguided, as are the many other inhumane ways of killing predators, such as gunning them down by helicopter, treeing cougars with dogs, bearbaiting, and trapping.


None of this is meant to disparage in any way the hard work of state and federal wildlife agents who do their best, often in confusing and difficult circumstances. It is, rather, a call to our society to wake up and notice that we are destroying the earth, and we must stop if either we or the earth are to survive.


The wild lands of Utah are among the most beautiful lands on earth, and they are being systematically reduced, diminished, and destroyed bit by bit.



A philosophy of exploitation


The underlying cause of this destruction of wild lands is a philosophy of exploitation. Predator killing targets and the industrial degradation of wild lands are not two separate issues; they go together.


We don’t want, one day, to look around us and see the spectacular beauty of Utah gone forever and for the lands around us to look like some of the most industrialized sectors of the rust belt of Ohio or Pennsylvania. Those polluted, toxic stretches were once also wild lands.


In a November 7, 2017 article in Forbes magazine, The most (and least) toxic places in America, Utah ranked third in the nation in terms of the amount of toxic pollution being released into the air each year. (Please see the link below.)


While pollution is not directly related to wildlife killing targets, it is relevant because it speaks volumes about the indifference with which our policies in Utah relate to the natural world – both wildlife and wild lands. As a state, we seem to be totally on board with the concept that the wilderness and wild animals were made for our benefit and should be used up as quickly and thoroughly as possible. In 2016, Utah released 273 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, behind only Alaska and Nevada.


While this may seem far afield from the issue at hand, it isn’t. The underlying question is not how many cougars, coyotes, or bears should we kill each year. Rather, the underlying question is how can we change our destructive approach to wildlife and wild lands. Until we see the relevance of that question, we will remain trapped in ignorance, and the unacknowledged devastation of the lands around us will continue.



Killing of predators


One crucial aspect of the pervasive damage to wildlife is the killing of predators, which skews biodiversity and undermines the natural order of ecosystems. When wolves were eliminated in the early twentieth century from the lower 48 states, this resulted in a lasting disturbance, which continues to this day, to the entire ecosystem. Studies in Yellowstone that document the return of the natural balance of nature when the wolves were re-introduced demonstrate this. After the wolves returned, they kept elk and deer herds on the move, which allowed the natural restoration of the river beds, and the riverine habitat – and for an abundance of young saplings, grasses, and other vegetation to grow up, and a return of fish, small mammals, and many bird species.


Depriving the natural world of the predators that would normally be present has far-reaching, negative consequences, such as the takeover by invasive species like cheat grass, which promote increasing wildfires and the disappearance of native species of birds, small mammals, and amphibians.



Protecting livestock from Depredation


Concerning the need for ranchers to protect their cattle and sheep, the killing of coyotes and cougars actually promotes the killing of livestock. This can be seen, not only from a number of studies that have been done, but also by reading maps produced by the DWR.


Last year, in 2017, I attended a RAC meeting in Beaver, Utah which focused partly on increasing the targeting of cougars, supposedly in order to decrease the incidents of depredation on livestock. In the sectors of the state which had been identified as areas where there had been increases in depredation, the hunting targets were being raised yet again because there was “still” a depredation problem.


These were generally areas where there had been depredation before, and after previously increasing the hunting targets, there was yet more depredation. In other words, the policy of killing more and more cougars was not working. On the contrary, more killing of cougars increased the levels of depredation, rather than decreasing them.


Killing more and more coyotes and cougars causes chaos in their social order. Many of the senior animals, who would normally guide and set an example for the younger ones, are killed. This leads directly to an increase in breeding, and to increased depredation on the part of adolescent animals who are no longer part of a stable social structure and who are now subject to engaging in aberrant behavior. Sheep and calves are not their natural prey. Depredation is the result of human interference.


Cougars and coyotes living in a natural state, where they are not being decimated, self-regulate their populations, just as all wild species tend to do in response to the conditions and the amount of food available.


Their populations do not need to be “controlled” by humans. This “control” does not work and is counter-productive. This is evident from the fact that we as humans have been killing predators (although they are not hunted for food) for the past four centuries in this country. This strategy has not worked in over four hundred years, and it is not going to work. We need to stop destroying individuals and species that are not hunted for food, because we are destroying the natural world in the process. Nature is weaker, more disturbed, and sicker than it has ever been before – due to many causes, among them our disastrous mismanagement of wild species.


(It is worth noting that Native Americans took what they needed from the natural world in a sustainable way, with respect, based on need, but not greed.) When our European forbears arrived on these shores, they encountered a vast, magnificent, thriving wilderness that stretched from shore to shore. Now it is gone, never to be brought back, leaving behind only the fragmented, mangled remnants of a once wild continent.)


Going back to stopping depredation of sheep and calves, there is a legal requirement that non-lethal means are to be employed first by Wildlife Services, and lethal means are to be deployed only as a last resort. This requirement appears to be being ignored.


There are many non-lethal means, of proven efficacy, yet they are rarely tried.


Ranchers, in any case, already have the lawful ability to kill an animal that is preying on their livestock, and they are also compensated for the loss of their domestic animals, so there is no need to employ Wildlife Services at taxpayer expense to kill hundreds and thousands of completely unrelated wild animals who have not engaged at all in any depredation of livestock.


Widespread, indiscriminate killing of predators not only does not prevent depredation to sheep and cattle – this misguided policy increases and leads to depredation. It is counterproductive, as well as being violent and cruel. (For more on this, please see the link below.)



We need to change


Our basic, mistaken perception of wildlife is at fault. There is no need for, and no gain to be had by, relating to the native wild animals who live in the lands around us as being worthless, of no account, of viewing them as inanimate objects to be disposed of as we wish, and seeing their lives and family structures as having no purpose or value, of not recognizing or acknowledging either the joy they feel in their lives, or their suffering, often brought about by human hands, or their God-given grace, beauty, dignity, and innocence.


It is time to return to a wiser, kinder approach to wildlife and wild lands, honoring them as our fellow beings on this earth, to be respected and admired as the innocent, living, sentient beings that they are.


As has often been said, “We belong to the earth; the earth does not belong to us.” It is only through a complete turn-around in our view of our place on earth and an awareness of the intrinsic beauty and worth of the wild that we may learn to live in harmony with our fellow beings on this planet, in a way that is no longer inhumane and death-dealing, but kind and life-giving.



Photo Credit: G’pa bill / Wikipedia / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Genericlicense./ Coyote pups in Mesa, Arizona.



Supporting information:


Utah ranks number three in toxic air pollution:



Link to Yellowstone Ecological Research Center, Crabtree’s Letter on Coyotes, about the effect of killing coyotes on predation rates: