Two weeks in the West

  • Miners bolt a mat to the ceiling of the Wright Uranium Mine in Colorado to help stabilize it.

    Barton Glasser
 

Just about every dinky diner in the Northwest’s logging country used to have a supplemental menu. Beside the grease-spattered board offering up fried eggs and bacon was another touting items such as spotted owl stew. It was a joke, of course, a jab at the endangered bird that many loggers blamed for the demise of their industry. Eat the owls, and they wouldn’t get in the way of sawing down forests.

Dinner-plate activism is once again being served, but this time enviros are holding the forks. In early May, 200 chefs from across the country called on Congress to knock down dams and restore rivers to protect salmon along the Pacific coast. Otherwise, they say, wild salmon will continue to float belly-up to the surface of dammed, algae-infested rivers. And that will mean fewer of the fish on the nation’s collective dinner table and an eventual end to “our country’s last great wild meal,” as the chefs put it in a letter to Congress.

The move comes as the battle over salmon-recovery efforts escalates across the Northwest. In Oregon and California, the fate of four salmon-killing dams on the Klamath River is in the balance. Indian tribes and fishing interests filed a lawsuit on May 2 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the dams’ owner, PacifiCorp, to force the company to address toxic algae problems in the river that are attributed to the dams. The company has pushed back against this and other efforts to remove the dams, saying its customers rely on the cheap, emissions-free power. Further north, on the Columbia River, a federal appeals court in April upheld Judge Jim Redden’s prior ruling that the Bush administration’s salmon-saving efforts on Oregon’s Columbia River are inadequate.

It’s not clear which weapon will work best when it comes to saving salmon — lawsuits or the sauté pan. But if the chefs’ effort succeeds, we may see a new wave of foodie environmentalism: Care for some Gunnison sage grouse confit with that roasted condor?

 

Uranium just keeps getting hotter, and Utah, Colorado and Arizona are feeling the heat.

Uranium’s now fetching $120 per pound, up from around $10 just four years ago, creating excitement on the Colorado Plateau. In western Colorado alone, prospectors have staked more than 3,000 claims in the last year, a trend mirrored in southern Utah and northern Arizona. But yellowcake fever is cooled by one stark fact: Most of the nation’s uranium mills were dismantled after the last bust, and those that remain are not processing raw ore. That means that most mines are still sitting idle, despite the recent boom. “It’s active, but I wouldn’t call it a frenzy,” says Lynn Lewis, geologist for the Bureau of Land Management’s Uncompahgre Field Office. “But if you open a mill, then there will be a frenzy.”

That may happen soon. In April, South African-based SXR Uranium One purchased the mothballed Shootaring Mill in southern Utah, not far from Lake Powell, fueling speculation that it will soon be up and running again. Built in 1982, the mill is the newest in the U.S.; it ran for only four months before sinking uranium prices shut it down. The company also bought nearly 39,000 acres of mineral claims and leases in Utah.

Meanwhile, long-dead and gone uranium mills in Utah continue to make news. Members of the Monticello-based group Victims of Mill Tailings Exposure recently urged the state’s congressional delegation to seek federal help for hundreds of current and former residents who have cancer. The group believes the illnesses are a direct result of living near the mill, which processed uranium from 1941 to 1960, and was finally cleaned up in 2004. And in Moab, 16 million tons of uranium tailings sitting on the banks of the Colorado River will be around for awhile longer; the Department of Energy recently said it would finish the cleanup in 2028, 17 years behind schedule. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, urged the department to act more quickly. Who knows, the cleanup from the last boom may even outlast the current boom.

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