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AM News Brief: Formalized Chokehold Ban, Moab Public Land Leasing & Jail For Artifact Looter

Photo of cliff dwelling.
Bureau of Land Management
A man will spend a year and a day in federal prison for taking items from an Ancestral Puebloan ceremonial site at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwestern Colorado. This story and more in the Thursday morning news brief.

Thursday morning, June 11, 2020

Northern Utah

Salt Lake Police Ban Tear Gas & Chokeholds

The Salt Lake City Police Department has banned chokeholds under a policy that was revised in the wake of calls for police reform following George Floyd's death. The policy also prohibits police from firing tear gas into crowds. At a city council work session Tuesday, Chief Mike Brown said the policy actually reflects what was already standard procedure. He said officers were never taught to use chokeholds or given access to tear gas for crowd control but told the council “we should state it in black and white.” — Associated Press

Rocky Ridge Fire

The Rocky Ridge Fire in Juab County forced evacuations last night that are now lifted. Utah fire officials said the fire is estimated at more than 300 acres and 20% contained. At one point flames were threatening the community north of Mona where homes were cleared out for about four hours. The cause of the fire, which broke out late Wednesday afternoon, is unknown. — Diane Maggipinto

Southern Utah

Public Land Leases Up For Auction In September

The Bureau of Land Management plans to lease over 80,000 acres of public land around Moab to energy companies in September. The sale includes 82,000 acres in San Juan and Grand counties. Some of the parcels are within a mile of Canyonlands National Park and within 4 miles of Arches National Park. An analysis by the Bureau of Land Management found that around 20 wells are likely to be drilled on the land during the 15-year lease period, disturbing 164 acres of public land. The sale follows a BLM proposal earlier this year to lease land within the famous Slickrock Bike trail for energy development. That was retracted after Gov. Gary Herbert criticized it. The Bureau is accepting public comment on the lease sale until July 9. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff

Southwest Utah’s Coronavirus Cases Have Tripled

Despite Southwest Utah’s recent spike in coronavirus cases, hospitals are running well below capacity, according to the region’s health director. Dr. David Blodgett said Wednesday that COVID-19 patients take up about 18% of ICU beds and half of the region’s overall hospital capacity. Since the state moved to a low-risk phase in mid-May, the region’s coronavirus cases have more than tripled — going from 219 to 680. — Lexi Peery, St. George


Two Weeks of 200+ Cases

Utah added another 307 cases of COVID-19 to the count on Wednesday marking two straight weeks of more than 200 daily cases reported by the state Department of Health. The department also announced one new death, bringing the state’s total to 128. KUER will carry live coverage of Gov. Gary Herbert and state epidemiologist Angela Dunn’s “situation update” Thursday at 11 a.m. — Diane Maggipinto

Follow KUER’s coverage of the coronavirus in Utah.


Oil & Gas Fee Breaks

Government data show the Trump administration has awarded energy companies hundreds of breaks on payments for oil and gas extraction from U.S. lands and the Gulf of Mexico during the coronavirus pandemic. The breaks on payments are intended to help companies with workforce problems or other issues after the pandemic caused fuel demand to plummet worldwide. Critics argue the breaks on government fees are unnecessary corporate handouts that in some cases are benefiting companies with histories of environmental violations. — Associated Press

Bill Would Require Mandatory COVID Tests For Wildland Firefighters

Wildfire season is here, and where a firefighter works ultimately determines whether or not they’re required to test for COVID-19. For example, Alaska has stringent testing requirements, while federal firefighters are only tested when they show symptoms. A Senate bill introduced this week would require mandatory testing of federal firefighters. But an official with the Department of Interior said the department does not endorse that idea at this time. — Noah Glick, Mountain West News Bureau

Navajo Nation President Calls For Vigilance

The Navajo Department of Health announced an additional 7 deaths and 125 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez points to Arizona as a warning for people to be vigilant and remain on the reservation, which spans that state, Utah and New Mexico. A large health system in Arizona reported the need for ventilators has quadrupled since Memorial Day, according to Nez. CNN reported three-quarters of ICU beds are occupied, and Arizona's health director instructed hospitals last week to fully activate their emergency plans to prepare for a surge. — Diane Maggipinto

Man Sentenced To Jail For Looting Artifacts

A man will spend a year and a day in federal prison for taking items from an Ancestral Puebloan ceremonial site at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwestern Colorado. 57-year-old Lonnie Shadrick Winbourn of Cortez traveled to the monument several times in 2017 and excavated the ceremonial area, which includes a large dance plaza and multiple human burial sites. When Winbourn was pulled over and arrested on an unrelated warrant, a Bureau of Land Management ranger found pottery shards in his pocket. A search turned up 64 stolen items, including jewelry, an ax head and other tools. — Associated Press

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