Letting some of it trickle out while trying to soak it all in

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The life and legacy of Kay Bradford

When we moved to Orem, Utah in late 2017, we had no idea that a national treasure lived just a few doors down. Our first week in the Orem 3rd ward was pretty typical of a first week anywhere…until we walked into Sunday school. An elderly woman on the front row bedecked in at least 50 pounds of jewelry and shiny shoes leapt to her feet and proclaimed to the whole class, “You must be new in the ward! Tell me your names, and I’ll introduce you to everyone!”

Kay Bradford was born in Huntington Utah in December 1923, making her a sprightly 93 when we first crossed paths. During our brief years together, Kay made an indelible mark on our hearts and lives. She was irrepressibly positive, intensely hopeful, eternally effervescent, and deliberately joyful. Though Kay was undeniably showy (her favorite colors were glitter and sparkle after all!), these virtues were not a show. She embodied a love of life and exuded a Christlike love for all of God’s children that disarmed all suspicion and division.

Kay enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon with Ingrid and Caspian.

I was privileged to serve Kay and her children Dorothy and Robert first as a home teacher and then as a ministering brother. The minor acts of service my companions and I were able to render were completely eclipsed by the wealth of wisdom and number of candies we received in return. Kay’s kindness and generosity were such that you couldn’t spend five minutes with her without a rejuvenated view on life and a baggie of caramels, chocolates, popcorn, or starbursts. She would often have an arsenal of treats prepared for our children and the other families we had lined up after visiting her.

During the pandemic, Kay and Dorothy invited us to prepare and share the sacrament each week in their home. The visits were touchstones in my week. The time was sacred because of the ordinance and the privilege of sharing a few moments in conversation and prayer together. She would often have a quote or insight from one of the many books she read, and she always sent us away with an admonition to express gratitude and see the good in the world around us. 

Though she was no stranger to loss and hardship, she told us to wake up every morning looking forward to something fabulous. "Something wonderful is going to happen today." She would often ask, "Aren't we so blessed?" while holding your hand and beaming into your face.

Two weeks ago, Kay passed away with her family by her side. She leaves behind almost a hundred children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great, great grandchildren. She leaves behind thousands of friends and acquaintances who are better because of her example.

We couldn’t attend her funeral, and I have been trying to find a way to process the grief and gratitude I feel at her passing. The video below is my small memento of a woman who changed my life. In October of 2018, I brought our kids to her place to ask her some questions. She agreed to let me record the interview. I was going to edit it down to a 5-minute video, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut any of her words or movements. Here is all 33 minutes of the uncut interview. Let Kay take you on a tour of her home and share some insights about how to stay happy in a challenging world.

I love you Kay, Dorothy, and Robert. I’m so grateful for what you taught me and my family, and I pray for all of you in this time of transition and change.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Utah Lake islands for restoration or real estate?

There have been so many developments in the Utah Lake islands saga! The legislature passed HB240 requiring more oversight of the island's process, but they also passed HB232, the Utah Lake Authority, which will completely shake up lake governance. LRS has kicked their advertising campaign into high gear, while continuing to harass any journalists (including students) who reports on their project. The lawsuit marches on, and I've finally learned how to spell subpoena.

I don't have time this week to cover everything, but I wanted to link to some recent news coverage and cross post an article I wrote for Conserve Utah Valley (CUV) earlier this week. To stay up to date, I recommend signing up for CUV's updates and joining the Utah Lake Restoration Project-Reality page on Facebook.

Memes for today's post courtesy of Jeff and Lorette Beck's Utah Lake Monetization Project

While LRS has been busy with paid advertising (billboards, video spots, sponsored articles, and even internet radio ads), there has been a lot of independent reporting on the project. Here are some recent articles and podcasts on the lake:
  1. The scientific community has released four documents on the project:
    1. An overview of the Utah Lake ecosystem, including its history, current status, and potential futures (Jul 29 2022): Getting to know the Utah Lake Ecosystem
    2. A public letter of warning about the content of the proposal and the tactics of LRS (Dec. 29, 2021): Island proposal could severely damage Utah Lake
    3. A magazine adaptation of the Getting to Know the Utah Lake Ecosystem article above with photos from community members (Feb. 7 2022): Utah Lake: An Ecosystem in Recovery
    4. A review of LRS's Army Corps application (Feb. 14, 2022): Utah Lake island application lacks restoration plan and fails to demonstrate benefits or need
  2. The most in-depth journalism has been done by Brian Maffly at the Salt Lake Tribune. Here is a roundup of recent articles:
    1. Feb. 1 2022: Artificial islands as real estate? The murky finances behind the Utah Lake Restoration project
    2. Feb. 2 2022: Facing $3 million lawsuit, scientist countersues Utah Lake's would-be dredgers
    3. Feb. 2 2022: Federal docs give first look at Utah Lake plan to build islands for real estate
    4. Feb. 12 2022: Company experts say dredging Utah Lake will be its salvation. Here's why critics oppose the project
    5. Feb. 23 2022: Utah lawmakers move to tighten requirements for Utah Lake island real estate project
    6. Feb. 17 2022: Proposed Utah Lake Authority sails through House committee, but faced some public criticism
    7. Mar. 8 2022: Would Utah Lake dredging really increase Utah's water supply? Don't bet on it.
    8. Mar. 28 2022: Would dredging Utah Lake upset a century of peace over water rights?
    9. Mar. 31 2022: How Utah Lake once sustained tribes and Mormon pioneers and why it needs help
  3. Kyle Dunphey at the Deseret News has also run several pieces on the lake islands. At the rally at the Capitol, I accidentally hugged Kyle when I saw him (I thought he was someone I knew personally), but as far as I know, that hasn't unduly influenced his coverage too severely: 
    1. Jan. 14 2022: What does the future hold for Utah Lake development, ecosystem?
    2. Jan. 20 2022: The contentious debate over the future of Utah Lake heats up as developer sue critic
    3. Feb. 1 2022: BYU professor pushed back on allegations of defamation from Utah Lake developers
    4. Feb. 12 2022: Opposition mounting against Utah Lake project, developers say 'trust is gained over time'
    5. Feb. 26 2022: 2 bills lawmakers say will steer Utah Lake toward a cleaner future gaining steam in legislature
  4. BYU's student paper, the Daily Universe has run a series of articles on the lake and the project:
    1. Jan 10 2022BYU environmental advocates take stand against Utah Lake development
    2. Feb. 1 2022: BYU professor named defendant in defamation lawsuit, says suit has implications for future of Utah Lake 
    3. Feb. 7 2022: Utahns rally on Capitol Hill to protest Utah Lake development
    4. Feb. 11 2022Utah Lake Restoration Project under federal review to evaluate environmental impact 
    5. Mar. 9 2022: Community project to revive Vineyard wetlands put on hold
  5. The Daily Herald has done some excellent coverage on the project, with most articles by Genelle Pugmire and Ashtyn Asay:
    1. Dec. 7 2021: Plan to restore Utah Lake met with resistance from Utah County conservation groups 
    2. Dec. 30 2021: More than a hundred ecologists, engineers and environmental scientists sign letter denouncing Utah Lake proposal
    3. Jan. 12 2022: Utah Lake Summit provides insight on body’s future
    4. Feb. 10 2022: Vineyard gets first look at Utah Lake restoration project 
    5. Mar. 18 2022Utah Lake Restoration Project must complete Environmental Impact Statement
  6. Rachel Dalrymple at Utah Business has also run two pieces that I found succinct and informative
    1. Dec. 10 2021Utah is building the largest artificial islands in the world
    2. Feb. 15 2022How should we decide the fate of Utah Lake?
  7. Doug Fabrizio at Radio West did a two-part series on the lake and the island project:
    1. Feb. 24 2022: The Past, Present and Future of Utah Lake: Part I
    2. Mar. 10 2022: The Past, Present and Future of Utah Lake: Part II
  8. I don't watch as much TV, but there has been some good coverage:
    1. Fox 13 (Feb. 8 2022): Bill regulating Utah Lake dredging passes through House committee
    2. abc4utah (Feb. 24, 2022): Push back on Utah Lake dredging project
    3. KUER (May 5, 2022): Utah Lake's June Sucker is threatened and this project hopes to put its house back in order
    4. Fox 13 (May 16 2022): The future of Utah Lake
  9. Aimee Van Tatenhove and her colleagues at Utah Public Radio (UPR) have done a nice series of interviews and pieces on the lake:
    1. UPR (Jan. 24 2022): A deep dive into Utah Lake: Part 1
    2. UPR (Feb. 04 2022): Public comment period open for permit application to dredge Utah Lake
    3. UPR (Feb. 10 2022): A deep dive into Utah Lake: Part 2
    4. UPR (Feb. 10 2022): Utah Lake amendments bill passes in committee
    5. UPR (Mar. 04 2022): New website to increase public involvement with proposed Utah Lake project
  10. There have also been some diverse op-eds over the past few months: 
    1. My favorite by a long shot is from Jon Benson, LRS president. Whenever I start feeling down about the lawsuit or the crazy project, I read this one for reassurance that there is humor and brightness in the world (Jan. 24 2022): Opinion: Utah Lake project welcomes constructive criticism
    2. George Handley wrote this response to Jon's op-ed (Feb. 6 2022): The myth of the irreparable Utah Lake
    3. Adam Stevenson wrote this moving personal and philosophical article in The Utah Monthly (Dec. 19 2021): In Defense of Utah Lake
    4. This one by Jon is not nearly as funny, but is still worth reading as it encapsulates the fundamental false premise of their proposition (Feb. 9 2022): Guest opinion: The threat of doing nothing on Utah Lake
    5. BYU law student Brittany Thorley wrote this clear opinion (Mar. 10 2022): One reason why I'll never support the Utah Lake islands project
    6. Another BYU student, Danny Dudley, wrote this fiery piece (Mar. 23 2022): THE UTAH LAKE EXPLOITATION PROJECT
    7. Don Jarvis and I wrote this one (Jan. 28 2022): Guest op-ed: Don't Pave Utah Lake?
    8. Christopher Smart wrote this short (if somewhat inaccurate) gem (Dec. 15 2021): Islands in Utah Lake could be built on B.S. 
    9. Local author John Bennion wrote this clear opinion (Jan. 26 2022):  Guest op-ed: Dubai islands in Utah Lake — a dubious project
    10. Bennion followed that up with this analysis of the project as an English professor (Apr. 7 2022): Arguments for dredging Utah Lake don't hold up
    11. Joel Campbell wrote this piece from a legal perspective (Jan. 21 2022): Opinion: Don’t let Utah Lake project muzzle criticism
    12. Joel Kester wrote this simple but touching letter (Jan. 21 2022): Letter: Why can’t enough people see the nonmonetary value of Utah Lake?
    13. Jim Harris wrote this effective and short letter to the editor (Feb. 24 2022): Let's not spend billions to turn Utah Lake into a Disneyesque theme park
  11. And I suppose the blogpost wouldn't be complete without the links to LRS's paid content:
    1. KSL (Mar. 24 2022): Working together to save Utah Lake
    2. Fox 13 The Place (May 03 2022): The Utah Lake Restoration Project is a plan to restore and improve Utah Lake
    3. Fresh Living (Feb. 9 2022): Utah Lake Restoration proposition
    4. Nugent Good News (Dec. 27 2021): Restoring Utah Lake
    5. abc4 Good Things Utah (Apr. 20 2022): How Utah Lake Restoration project is saving 30 billion gallons of water every year

Finally, here is the blog post I wrote for CUV about LRS's fundraising materials (original link here)

Fundraising materials show primary objective of islands is for revenue generation, not restoration

The people behind the proposal to build the world’s largest dredged islands in Utah Lake describe themselves as conservationists. However, recently revealed fundraising materials from the group tell a different story. Dated June 2021, the document described in this Salt Lake Tribune article has now been provided to Conserve Utah Valley by a whistleblower that Lake Restoration Solutions (LRS) tried to recruit. 

Because we believe our community deserves to know what the developers are telling their investors about this project that would fundamentally reshape the future of Utah Valley, we are attaching the fundraising materials at the bottom of this blog post. The document includes important details about the financial structure of the real estate venture and some specifics about the proposed work. 

Following the Money 

The public front of the island project is a limited liability company called LRS, but the fundraising materials reveal the financing is being funneled through a limited partnership (LP) called the Utah Lake Development Fund. This LP consists of two main partners: Foresight Wealth Management and Prospera Growth Fund. These partners would collect investments from extremely wealthy “Qualified Clients.” Based on their estimates, these investments would yield a 1.95 to 3.0-fold net return within 4 to 5 years. 

The document includes several letters of support, including a letter from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development committing a $10 million legislative appropriation for an LRS loan guarantee. This letter was dated October 2020, during the tenure of former Governor Gary Herbert. Additional letters show that Prospera committed $15 million, and Foresight committed $10 million to LRS to initiate the project. The most surprising letter comes from the mayor of Vineyard city, Julie Fullmer, who “appropriates $5,000,000 cash or cash reserves to be used for eligible approved project related costs.” The city council of Vineyard was not aware of this commitment, and it remains unclear if Mayor Fullmer had the authority to legally sign the letter. 

Accelerated Timeline  

Though LRS has repeatedly told the public that the start of work is years away, this document reveals they intend to start dredging in the summer of 2023 and selling land in May of 2025. The project’s “Phase 1” consists of a series of islands just off the shoreline from Vineyard, American Fork, Lehi, and Saratoga Springs. The first island would be called “American Fork Island” and would have around 60 lots ranging from half-acre to 7-acre estates. LRS claims that they have land purchase commitments for around 70% of the Phase-1 land—nearly 2,500 acres. 

In contrast with LRS’s public statements that land sales would occur only after completion of restoration, this document states that “Importantly, Phase 1’s outcome is not dependent on LRS’s future phases.” Because Phase 1 consists almost entirely of development land, this means that LRS could build and sell approximately 3,000 acres without providing any restoration benefit to the lake or creating recreation or wildlife islands for the community. According to the per-acre price estimates in the document, the land sales in Phase 1 could generate $1.95 billion in revenue for LRS.

10% For the Environment 

LRS writes, “Of the ~20,000 acres created, 16,508 acres are intended as development land. The remaining 3,500 acres will be recreation and estuary islands for environmental and public-use purposes.” LRS’s Army Corps application further reduces the recreation and estuary islands to only 10% of the overall acreage (see this independent evaluation of their application here). 

Foresight’s commitment letter indicates that LRS has the “intent of selling the real property for private development and municipal management.” This means that while LRS has been telling the public that only 50% of the new land would be privatized, they will be able to sell 90% or more of the island area. Using LRS’s upper estimates of land value ($650K an acre), the sovereign land that would be transferred from the people of Utah to their company would be worth $10.7 billion. 

The budget summary that LRS provides raises additional questions about their priorities. Now that the Provo Bay portion of Phase 1 has been cut and the recreation islands have been reduced, only $1.1 billion is earmarked for “restoration,” though even this number includes activities that would be better described as project damage mitigation. Most of this “restoration” work would be financed with the $893 million federal loan LRS is seeking from the EPA.

Questionable Claims 

Like all their public documents released to date, LRS provides very little to no detail about how they would deliver the described benefits. For example, LRS claims that the project would save 34 to 40 billion gallons of water by reducing evaporation and increasing the lake’s storage capacity by 40%. However, water managers and hydrologists have questioned these claims, forcing LRS to admit that these numbers were largely made up. In this interview, LRS president Jon Benson said, “Of all the numbers that are preliminary, that’s the most preliminary.” Likewise, no evidence is provided in this document or the Army Corps application to support the claims that the project would improve circulation, increase water clarity, restore native species, or reduce algal blooms.

See For Yourself 

Here is the link to download and evaluate LRS’s fundraising materials.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Contrasts in the great Utah Lake debate

 This Utah Lake saga has been a dizzying lesson in contrasts.

Restoration vs. reengineering

Data vs. marketing

Volunteers vs. lobbyists

Reality vs. renders

Conservation vs. consumption

Independent coverage vs. paid advertising

Conversation vs. lawsuits

Legacy vs. land grab

Gratitude vs. greed

It was especially clear last night in Salt Lake. 

Pictures by Decker Westenberg of the Daily Universe

Nearly 600 citizens from every walk of life gathered at the capitol to celebrate the lake that sustains us and demand accountability and protection. Mary explained the Indigenous worldview, reminding us to look seven generations back and seven generations forward. Gabe powered the event with bicycles, and Byron led us in song. Children shared their hope for a natural and intact lake ecosystem. Leaders linked arms with the crowd, seeming to understand that we must work together with respect and commitment. Creation is sacred and so much more than what we could sell it for.

At almost the same time, in the Grand America Hotel, the developers wined and dined influential invitees at their closed-door event. Their paid experts explained how no one cared about the lake or knew how to care for it before they arrived. They graciously offered to do the great service of filling in our largest freshwater lake at no cost to taxpayers. The lake is broken they said: too wild, too windy, too wet. Our creator must have made a mistake when making the lake.

The contrast was clear again today in the committee hearing for H.B. 240. 

Representative Keven Stratton proposed modest amendments to the Utah Lake Restoration Act—a law custom built for the island project. Stratton asked for clarifications about how to make the process more transparent, fair, and constitutional. Representative Casey Snider spoke clearly: a company that can’t stand up to scrutiny—that chooses to silence critics with lawsuits rather than answer their questions—isn’t a company we should do business with. During the public comment period, dozens of independent citizens spoke in favor of increasing oversight and exercising prudence and science-based management during these crucial early stages of the lake’s convalescence. The lake is a living thing worthy of our respect and reciprocity. Tara called for all our leaders to learn about the lake’s ecology. Kaye described how she used to waterski across the entire lake—changing course when needed to avoid obstacles. Peggy asked who would be responsible for maintenance and pointed out that the “land” couldn’t be sold without clear title.

One person spoke against the amendments: Jeff Hartley, one of the developers’ many professional lobbyists. He said that one minute wasn’t long enough to describe how misguided and unfair these amendments were. Despite the common-sense nature of the bill, 6 of the 13 representatives sided with Hartley. They said it would be unfair to move the goalposts during the game. The developers have held more than 100 closed-doors meetings, and it wouldn’t be right to clarify the conditions they agreed to at this point. Who else would want to “invest” in the lake if they weren’t sure they could get their money out of it?

I know a few. 4 Abbott kids, more than 50 cousins, 117 experts, 563 citizens at the capitol, 6,000 petition signers, and soon all 14 generations of Natives and newcomers in this valley.

The vote count was 6 for and 6 against when it came to Keven.

“Does the bill sponsor vote for these amendments?”

“Damn right I do.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Utah Lake: our sacred trust

This morning, we held a press conference at Utah Lake on the LRS lawsuit. The live stream recording is accessible on Conserve Utah Valley’s Facebook page here. Several of my students, both my parents, and friends and acquaintances gathered in support. James Flaming Eagle Mooney and his entourage pronounced a blessing on all in attendance. My fabulous lawyers, Whit Krogue from RQN and Adam Alba from MCG then gave a primer on free speech and the contents of our answer to the lawsuit.

Adam and Whit set the stage.

Isabella Errigo read a message from Chief Executive Mary Meyer from the Timpanogos Nation, who was unfortunately quarantined with sick family. Andrew South then spoke about the engineering and economics of mega projects like this, followed by Elisabeth Currit reading a message from George Handley on our responsibility and expectations. Carol-Lyn Jardine then spoke about the efforts of Conserve Utah Valley and the broader Utah Lake Conservation Coalition, including the rally this upcoming Monday (don’t miss it!). I usually don’t like to read from a script, but this time, I felt I should write down exactly what I wanted to say. Here is what I read (photos courtesy of Jared Tamez and Jeff Beck):

I am so grateful for these community leaders who have given their time today to share their wisdom, experiences, and opinions about Utah Lake. I am also grateful to all those reporting on these issues and all those following along at home or at work. The biggest thing I’ve learned from this experience is that the vast majority of our community and leaders are well intentioned and want a bright future for Utah Valley and the lake at its center.

Whit on the fundamental importance of free speech.

A vibrant, free society depends on the open exchange of ideas, transparency in government, reliable information, and freedom of speech. Public disagreements and hard questions are needed at every step of big decisions about our community. I’m hard pressed to think of a bigger decision than the future of Utah Lake. Depending on how you think of it, this is a 150 square mile decision or a 30,000-year decision looking back to the Pleistocene origins of this unique water body.

Isabella reading Mary’s words about the sacredness of the lake.

The importance of free and open debate in making decisions makes this lawsuit really troubling. I have family, friends, and a professional network that have supported me and my family through this trauma, but I can’t shake this one question. What if this lawsuit had targeted someone else? What if the developers picked a college student, a single parent, or a working-class family speaking out about issues in their neighborhood? Do we want to live in a society where only those who can afford to retain permanent legal counsel can fully participate in public debate? Will we tolerate legal actions that dodge the hard questions and instead seek to silence citizens who are trying to understand and speak out about what is going on?

Elisabeth reading George’s words about leadership and stewardship.

The way we respond to this crisis will influence how our valley grows and what our society grows into. You may not agree with my conclusions about Utah Lake and this project, but I hope and sincerely believe that we are unified in our commitment to free speech and accountability. Our society is stronger when everyone can confidently share their views and raise concerns. Along those lines, I invite our political leaders to strengthen our state’s anti-SLAPP statute so that all Utahns can confidently participate in discussions about our state’s values and future.

Andrew talking about the societal and economic risk of mega projects. 

Now let’s get back to the lake. Utah Lake is big geographically, but it’s ecological and cultural importance aren’t just a matter of size. This desert lake is an island of water in the vast sea of land that is the Great Basin. Consequently, it is a keystone ecosystem in western North America—supporting tens of millions of birds, fish, and other species. The lake is generous and resilient. As Chief Executive Meyer of the Timpanogos Nation has taught us, this lake has sustained multiple civilizations around its dynamic shoreline for more than 20,000 years. When my ancestors arrived less than 200 years ago, the bounty of the lake’s fishery saved them when their crops failed. Many of us literally would not be here if it weren’t for Utah Lake.

Carol-Lyn showing the packet that was delivered to every representative and senator today.

Since the arrival of the Pioneers, we have a mixed record with our stewardship of the lake. We introduced exotic fish to replace the native ones we overharvested. We changed the lake’s hydrology to meet our immediate needs, not anticipating the feedbacks and impacts that would have on the whole valley. Our excessive water diversions resulted in the lake drying up during the Dustbowl, extincting one of the lake’s endemic fish, the Utah Lake sculpin. These errors have one thing in common: instead of carefully observing and learning from the lake, we assumed we could remake it in our own image. This is a story that has repeated itself thousands of times around the world. Wendell Berry calls this “arrogant ignorance.”

Me describing what a sailboat looks like and how it works.

Lessons learned from that failure in the 1930s helped us establish careful water management that led to the lake refilling. We rejected proposals to fundamentally change the lake in the 1970s and 80s. When the federal government tried to drill for oil under Utah Lake during the oil crisis, our community and state said no. The lake was too important to risk when other resources were available throughout the state and country. Then in 1989, when a senator proposed to create a Utah Lake Authority that would dike off Goshen Bay, crisscross the lake with highways, and build artificial islands—all in the name of comprehensive restoration and improvement of the lake—our leaders said no.

This isn’t the first time islands and dikes have been pointed at Utah Lake. This bill from 1989 wanted to “fix” the lake by destroying it similar to the current proposals under consideration.

For the past 40 years, we have taken a different path. We chose to invest in healing and ecological restoration. Rather than trying to transform the lake into something new, we decided to study and learn from the lake and begin undoing some of the mistakes we had made. Utah Lake had a huge advantage over other waterbodies such as the Great Salt Lake, which had suffered permanent modifications. Though not healthy at that time, Utah Lake was at least whole and intact. Starting with investments in wastewater treatment, we began to reduce the flows of excess nutrients and other pollutants to the lake. The listing of the June sucker as endangered accelerated these efforts, bringing diverse community partners to the table to discuss how we could restore the lake while still meeting our needs. We began removing the introduced species and testing methods for reestablishing native plants and fish. Collaborative agreements between farmers, cities, and other water users began restoring river flow to the lake—its lifeblood.

Hashtag for real don’t pave the lake.

These efforts are now bearing fruit as algal blooms decline, native species recover, and people across our valley rediscover the beauty, power, and wonder of this unique ecosystem. Right at this delicate and crucial moment of healing and recovery, we need to have an extra measure of caution and commitment. Utah Lake’s recovery depends on sustained support, rigorous research, and robust public participation.

An osprey returns to its nest on the lake.

The island developers seem to think we don’t have the right to say no. They tell us they want input, but apparently only about the size, number, and shape of the islands. They tell us that the law has already been passed, or that we should wait until some point in the future to speak out, potentially when their project is so far along that it can’t be stopped. I don’t accept that argument. I reserve the right to say no. Our community has the right to debate and decide whether or not this is the right direction for us and the lake that sustains us.

James Flaming Eagle Mooney and entourage performed a smudge ceremony.

So, I want us all to take a deep breath and ask ourselves, how did we get here? What are we considering and why? What are the policies and programs that have brought us to the brink of such a bad decision? Take a look at the signs around us. They say, “Don’t pave Utah Lake.” Are we seriously considering throwing away decades of restoration? Are we seriously considering destroying one of our state’s natural wonders for short-term profit? If we allow this project to move forward, are we going to need signs next that say, “Don’t bulldoze Mount Timpanogos”? “Don’t sell Bridal Veil Falls?” How many times do we need to learn this lesson? I believe we are better than this.

Bremen and Logan hold back the wind (and hopefully the islands).

Like medicine, the first rule of ecological restoration is to “do no harm.” What we need right now isn’t islands, or a bigger shovel as proposed by the new Utah Lake Authority. We need cool heads and leaders with vision and moral courage who can help our valley fulfill our sacred stewardship of this lake.

The lake.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Lawsuits for Utah Lake

Last Tuesday, Lake Restoration Solutions sued me for $3 million dollars (news coverage here and here). Life’s been a little crazy since then, but the outpouring of support, love, and service from all of you has far outweighed the LRS developers’ fear and anger.

Every day since this went public, I have gotten emails, text messages, and phone calls from friends, family, and strangers. This morning Josh Johnson called me and said, “maybe these guys didn’t know that you have 50+ cousins just on the Hansen side.” 

Part of my legal team testing the waters on Utah Lake earlier this month.

From my perspective, we’re all cousins, and we are many more than 50. With so many dedicated, creative, and persistent people working together, I have absolute faith that this will turn for the benefit of Utah Lake and our community. I have felt your love and the calm assurance of the Spirit every day since they dropped off their lawsuit.

It is our God-given responsibility to care for and defend the glorious Earth that sustains us all. No part of this sacred creation is expendable—we can’t tolerate lakes being destroyed just like we can’t tolerate people being silenced for participating in civic life. As Naomi Klein wrote, “if each of us loved our homeplace enough to defend it, there would be no ecological crisis, no place could ever be written off as a sacrifice zone.”

I am so grateful to be surrounded by people of character who are committed to integrity and truth. “Do what is right; let the consequence follow.” 

If you want to help us win this lawsuit, feel free to contribute through the legal defense fund put together by Conserve Utah Valley on Facebook here or through PayPal here. If you already gave through the GoFundMe page that Melanie started, thank you (that will all be consolidated). Our goal is to not only win this case, but to use this opportunity to restore protection to Utah Lake, strengthen freedom of speech, establish strong precedent for public participation in government, and nurture a healthier and more open process for decision making in our state.

If you’re reading this, LRS, I’m not scared. I’ve got 50+ cousins just on the Hansen side.

Part of my expert legal team holding a confidential meeting at an undisclosed location on the north side of Utah Lake.

Friday, December 31, 2021

The Ecology of Jesus

Last month Jay Griffith and Andi Pitcher invited me to participate in an online conversation about how the coming of Christ changes our relationship with Earth and all living things. It was part of the Think Again Faith Again series, so I jumped at the opportunity. They asked me to write some thoughts as a primer, which I ended getting to them less than 24 hours before the actual event because…of course I did (sorry Jay and Andi).

Here is the recording:

And here are the preparatory paragraphs and some thoughts about what Jesus teaches us about ecology:

Ecology is the study of how living and nonliving parts of the Earth system interact. Rooted in the Greek word for home (oikos), ecology tries to understand how the household of God is run. We usually think about what Jesus taught us about our relationship with self, society, and God. But Christ’s example is rich with teachings about proper attitudes and behavior in ecological communities (populations of different species) and ecosystems (all life and environment).

Pope Francis wrote, “how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.” This congruence between love of God, creation, and neighbor is taught in every book of scripture and most perfectly typified in the pattern of Christ’s life. His birth among peasants, beasts, and Earth. His disdain for hierarchy and insistence on reconciliation. His interpretation of dominion as service and love. Most importantly, his demonstration that all life depends on death. In a world of nearly 8 billion neighbors, how can we apply Christ’s ecology today? In this conversation, we hope to ask, what can we do as a faith community to return to a place of obedience to Earthly laws? We will explore how the life and teachings of Jesus could heal our personal relationships, patterns of consumption and reciprocity, and the structure of our societies.

Perhaps more than any other choice we make, the relationship we cultivate with our earthly home affects our ability to keep the two great commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. We live in a time of unparalleled human dominion of the Earth’s great cycles and life—an epoch called the Anthropocene or time of humans. Though our relationship with the Earth is obscured by industrial supply chains and carefully controlled indoor lifestyles, our dependence on ecological community—relationship with creation—is more immediate and absolute than ever before. Indeed, our abuse of the environment is now the leading cause of human sickness and death—pollution accounts for 1 in 4 deaths every year, more than all communicable diseases, dietary disorders, and human violence combined.

A figure from Isabella Errigo and others 2020, showing causes of death (Human Health and Economic Costs of Air Pollution in Utah).

Economic and ecological sciences typically assume that human nature is immutable. Christ’s Gospel of radical transformation—his invitation to abandon all our wealth and be released from the burdens of our careers—challenges this assumption. Jesus showed us that each individual, community, and ecosystem has unique and sacred attributes. No one and no place is dispensable. We must meet our temporal needs in ways that do not poison or exploit the Earth. What can we learn from Christ’s example and teachings about how to live in community with creation? How can we share this gospel in time to save our sisters and brothers across all the branches of the tree of life?

Here are ten lessons from Christ’s life and teaching that are relevant to how we treat other humans, other life, and all creation.

  1. Redefinition of power to mean humility, meekness, and focus on others. Power is not the capacity to take life but to give it. This turns our modern concept of dominion on its head. According to Christ’s teachings, stewardship or dominion over the Earth are simply a responsibility to serve and protect it.
  2. Utter rejection of inequality and injustice. In all his interactions, Jesus taught us that hierarchy doesn’t (or shouldn’t) determine relationship. His time, attention, and service was guided by need. Rather than a chain of command, Christ taught us connect with all creation in a web of learning and sharing.
  3. Nothing is wasted, nothing is disposable. Christ put an end to destructive sacrifice.
  4. Glorification of all creation: Zion will come forth from all creation. Jesus paid special attention to small things that sustain other things. There is beauty and glory in meekness and humility.
  5. Common purpose for all creation. All life and even the nonliving elements share the purpose of fulfilling the measure of our creation and having joy.
  6. Agency and opposition. The universal separation isn’t between humans and nonhumans, it’s between things that act and things that are acted upon. All life has agency—the ability to choose and act for itself. Opposition allows us to exercise that agency. Darkness and life, death and birth, right and wrong.
  7. Consent—that we should interact with the Earth through persuasion, forbearance, and love unfeigned, without compulsory means. We should receive gifts rather than extract resources.
  8. Collaboration and disinterest in credit. During creation, Christ worked with the Earth to create life: “let the Earth and water bring forth life.”
  9. True power and persistence come from resilience not rigidity. Christ had no patience for those who compromised the spirit of the law for its letter. He focused on the specific circumstances. Gift of time.
  10. Uncompromising and expecting radical change. There is an objective reality that is uncompromising and absolute in its consequences. Choices bring greater life or greater death. Wickedness never was happiness. Christ asked us to leave our wealth and comfort to follow him and serve those in need.

Additional readings:

Robin Wall Kimmerer 2014, “Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass”.

Pope Francis 2015, “Laudato Si’—our care for our common home”.

Wendell Berry 2012, It all turns on affection.

Ben Abbott 2020, How close are we to the edge?

Joseph Smith 1834, Doctrine and Covenants 104

Beauty and function in every detail and corner of creation.