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The Wasatch Behind: Criptobiotic crap strikes

Sun Advocate Columnist

Well folks, they've done it again. Our friends at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance have filed for a court injunction to stop the Lila Canyon mine here in Carbon County. They say there are a few patches of cryptobiotic soil on the proposed 35-acre mine site, and the wilderness warriors are out to stop the project to save the environment and protect us from ourselves.

Two questions beg to be answered here. Who the (expletive deleted) is SUWA? And what the heck is cryptobiotic soil?

SUWA was formed in the early 1980s as a wilderness advocacy group. Their earliest, and so far failed attempt, to set the clocks in southern Utah back to the 1840s was the introduction of America's Redrock Wilderness Act in 1988. The act was championed in congress by one of Utah's greenest and stealthiest legislators ever, the late Wayne Owens. You remember, he's the guy who thumbed his nose at us and the rest of the Utah congressional delegation from the Grand Canyon in Arizona as Bill Clinton signed the Grand Staircase Escalante into law back in 1996.

Anyway, the Redrock Act was presented as a "citizens initiative" to save 9.5 million acres of our backyard as pseudo-wilderness. In truth it can never be real wilderness because there are lots of roads, mines, fences, buildings, ranches, power lines, and other "inconvenient truths" in most of the proposed wilderness areas. And we have "consensus" about that. That is why SUWA and the BLM are working hard to close those inconvenient roads.

SUWA has offices in Salt Lake, Moab, and Washington D.C. and is supported primarily from grants and donations from wealthy benefactors, most of whom live out of state or out of the United States. SUWA's weapon of choice is the court of law. More and more they are losing in the court of public opinion. Membership is down.

Cryptobiotic soil is dirt with a thin lumpy crust of dark organic material similar to moss, mold, or lichens. It is found all over the arid west and is said to help the soil by sealing in moisture and helping to prevent erosion. The stuff is common in Carbon County. Crypto-soil pulverizes when disturbed and reverts back to ordinary old dirt. Other than helping to seal the ground from wind erosion, the microorganisms in it have no known ecological, economic, or medicinal value.

From my personal observations over many years, it seems that the most important use for cryptobiotic soil is that park rangers at Arches use it as an excuse to keep tourists and boy scouts on the trails. Just like SUWA, they tell outsiders that the dirt is alive and the whole ecosystem will be damaged if someone breaks that super sensitive crypto-crust with a hiking shoe or a bike tire. And they say that it takes dozens, maybe hundreds of years for the damaged organisms to repair the shoe print and heal the scar.

Now I'm not a scientist, and I don't play one on TV, but my experience with cryptobiotic soil has been a little less dramatic.

The crypto-creatures heal my boot tracks in just a season or two, and I haven't seen our ecosystem fail in the wake of millions of tracks from herds of sheep and cattle, not to mention thousands of deer, elk, rabbits, raccoons, antelope, ATVs, foxes, ferrets, pack rats, backpackers, and other creatures that tiptoe through the crypto at the base of the bookcliffs. In my humble opinion, if cryptobiotic soil is as delicate as SUWA says it is, it would have gone the way of the dinosaurs long ago. It is constantly being punched full of holes. What happens when we get those violent summer thunderstorms, or when rain turns to hail?

And so, for SUWA to use cryptobiotic soil as an excuse to shut down a major mining project in Carbon County is nothing but tree hugging nonsense. Enough already. There used to be lots of cryptobiotic soils where we have homes, gardens, farm fields, ballparks and gun ranges today, and our not-so fragile ecosystem hasn't crashed yet. And besides, the millionaires who belong to SUWA and other earth worship groups don't ever seem to be bothered by inconvenient things like crypto-soils when they build mansions, subdivisions, access roads, tennis courts, swimming pools, golf courses, and runways in the red dirt near Moab and St. George. But then, I guess they don't make their living from coal mining either.

Whatever happened to the golden rule about live and let live?

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