To the north of Kanab lies Bryce Canyon, and to the west Zion National Park with its towering red cliffs reaching toward the sky – uniquely majestic, unlike any place else on earth. Every day we drive past mysterious, otherworldly terrain, so breathtakingly beautiful that millions of people are drawn here each year from every corner of the world, three million a year just to visit Zion National Park.

Tourism makes up the backbone of the economy of Kane County. Throughout Utah, revenue from tourists and visitors dwarfs every other source of income. Every business in Kane County, directly or indirectly, relies on tourist dollars. We all benefit, not just from the peace and serenity of the wild areas in which we are blessed to live, but in a down-to-earth way, our pocketbooks are blessed too.

A plan to expand the Alton Coal Mine to around four times its current size on to public lands puts at risk the unique, unspoiled character of Kane County.

That the coal industry pollutes the air, the water, and damages the well-being of plants, animals and human beings is now commonly-accepted public knowledge.

The risk is not just that of pollution. If it goes ahead, this coal expansion could well set a precedent for more mining or drilling in the future. Already, special interests are clamoring to do uranium mining on the public lands around the Grand Canyon, including in the Kaibab Forest. Near Moab, 785,000 acres are under threat of oil and gas extraction and potash mining. None of us wants to see the beauty of nature turned into an industrialized wasteland.

Two thousand two hundred and eighty acres of BLM public land near the current Alton Coal Mine may be leased for coal expansion. For the severely threatened sage grouse, who do their remarkable, captivating mating dance in the early hours of spring mornings just a few miles south of Bryce Canyon, this land is their southernmost habitat. This area also lies on a major wildlife corridor that runs from Mexico up through Arizona and Utah and then farther north to Canada. It has been called “the spine of the American West.”

We do not want our public lands to be decimated, segmented and destroyed by the coal industry. If this expansion takes place, it is estimated that 300 coal trucks a day may barrel their way through Panguitch, spewing clouds of dust behind them.

Coal expansion could undermine the essential character of Kane County as a place of great natural peace and serenity. It would pose a threat to the land and the wilderness that we love, and to the wild ones with whom we share this land: the deer, the rabbits, bald eagles and hawks, the butterflies, the trees, and the wildflowers. The kind of strip mining that is done by the Alton Coal Mine destroys every inch of the surface of the land.

In response to public comments, the BLM has made efforts to mitigate the damage to the environment and to wildlife. Despite all the good intentions in the world, however, it is simply not possible for a coal mine and sensitive wildlife species to co-exist on the same land, in the midst of deafening noise, blasting, and heavy machinery moving back and forth, with lights flashing 24 hours a day. It just won’t work.

With remarkable success, Kane County residents have opposed other similar threats, such as the coal gasification project. Some have been expressing concerns for several decades about the various previous incarnations of coal interests in Alton.

But this work of speaking up is not yet done.

There is still a need to inform those around us of this persistent threat and to make it known that Kane County residents intend to defend our way of life, to grow our tourist-based economy, and preserve the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world around us, along with the lives of the wild creatures who share the earth with us.

This Thursday, January 14, we are meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Kanab Public Library and will be launching an e-mail campaign. Our guest speaker, Debbie Pappas, will share her experiences as a wildlife rehabilitator in Price, the heart of Utah’s coal country. Please join us.