Bird groups protest proposed West Davis Highway

Saturday , October 05, 2013 - 5:44 PM

Utah birders walk the trails at the Farmington Bay bird refuge. They want to stop the proposed West...

Nancy Van Valkenburg, Standard-Examiner Staff

FARMINGTON — A coalition of wildlife and environmental groups on Saturday raised both funds and awareness by hosting a bird-watching event to oppose the West Davis Highway.

Organizers said the proposed highway would be harmful to Wasatch Front wetlands, and to the hundreds of varieties of birds that nest, feed, stop during migration, or live and hunt in the Great Salt Lake marshlands.

“The Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers all came and said this road would do real damage,” said Carl Ingwell, cofounder of Utah Birders. “It will place semi-trucks within 500 feet of nesting birds.”

Nearly 40 bird watchers braved frosty morning temperatures to meet at the Great Salt Lake Nature Center at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area. The suggested donation was $20, but some paid more for a chance to learn about the proposed highway or support its opposition, and to get a first-hand look at waterfowl in its natural habitat.

The event was sponsored by the Shared Solution coalition (www.sharedsolution.org). Besides Utah Birders, the group includes Utahns for Better Transportation, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake, Farmington Ranches Homeowners Association, Breathe Utah, the National Audubon Society, Utah Audubon Council, Great Salt Lake Audubon, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Great Salt Lake Yacht Club, Utah Waterfowl Association, Wasatch Clean Air Coalition, Utah Rivers Council, Western Wildlife Conservancy, Utah Airboat Association, Bike Utah, Utah Mud Motor Association, and CleanAirNow!

Shared Solutions supports the improvement of existing roads, along with a plan for their more efficient use, to meet the transportation needs of Utah’s growing population.

Because of the Great Salt Lake’s status as America’s largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River, and as the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, what happens in Utah is important, Ingwell said.

“It’s important globally,” he said. “It’s not just a Farmington issue, a Davis County issue or a Utah issue.”

Brandon and Sydney Elwood, of Farmington, brought their children, Emily and Wyatt, 3 and 18 months.

“We want them to have the same experience we had,” Brandon Elwood said. “We come here quite a bit. There are hundreds of species that come through here. It’s their safe haven.”

The Elwoods are fairly new to bird watching.

“People will post that they saw a bird of a certain species here, and people from all over will come here to try and see it,” Sydney Elwood said. “We just started bird watching, and we’ve already seen 130 species here. We’ve watched them breeding, and sitting on their nests. We want our children to see this in real life, not to just learn about birds in school.”

Brandon Elwood said many of his friends don’t know what’s going on.

“In my neighborhood there are people who don’t know they want to put a highway in,” he said. “And even the people who do know don’t know all of the implications the project would have.”

Kenny Frisch, of Salt Lake City, arrived with a tripod and a scope, and shared the views he found of snowy egrets, red-tailed hawks, green-winged teals, red-winged blackbirds and lesser yellowlegs. All seemed peaceful in their marshy grassland environment, as they preened, rested or scouted the terrain.

“There are probably 400 species here,” Frisch said. “You can see hundreds in one day. And an expressway would probably cut that in half. I’m here to help stop the building of a highway we don’t even need. I wish more people would come and see what is here.”

Christine Bastian, of Salt Lake City, also believes the West Davis Highway is unnecessary.

“It would take $600 million of taxpayers money,” she said. “If it is unneeded, we should not need to pay to build it. People don’t want to go to paved places just to take their children outside.”

Daughter Jessa Bastian, 10, agreed.

“If the freeway gets built, animals will lose their homes,” she said.

Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or nvan@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @S_ENancyVanV.

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