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AM News Brief: State Of Emergency, New Colorado River Commissioner & Wolf Fight Continues

Photo of the Colorado River.
Flickr Creative Commons/herdiephoto
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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has appointed Gene Shawcroft as the state's new commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission. This story and more in the Friday morning news brief.

Friday morning, January 15, 2021

State

Utah State Of Emergency

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has declared a state of emergency starting Friday. It’s in anticipation of potential violent sieges of the state capitol, largely due to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week in Washington D.C. Cox said the National Guard is on standby to protect Utah’s capitol, and there will be zero tolerance for violence or property destruction. The state of emergency runs through Jan. 21, the day after Biden’s inauguration. It allows state law enforcement officials to close Capitol Hill if necessary. — Sonja Hutson

New Commissioner With Eye To Colorado River Compact

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has appointed Gene Shawcroft as the state's new commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission. He made the announcement in a press release Thursday. Shawcroft is taking on the position with more than 30 years' experience in water management. One of his most important roles will be to represent Utah in renegotiations for the Colorado River Compact — an agreement about water usage among Utah, Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming. The Colorado River is the water source for about 65% of Utah's population. — Roddy Nikpour

Southern Utah

Green Light For Controversial Washington County Highway

Federal agencies gave the go-ahead for the Northern Corridor in Washington County Thursday. But people against the highway are concerned about it cutting through protected Mojave Desert tortoise habitat. Washington County officials have been pushing for the four-lane road for years. County Commission Chair Gil Almquist said federal approval doesn’t mean construction starts now — they still need to fend off challengers to the project. One of those challengers is Conserve Southwest Utah, and the group’s President Tom Butine said he isn’t surprised by the federal agencies’ decision. Read the full story. — Lexi Peery, St. George

Northern Utah

Ogden Democrats Vie For Utah House Seat

Eight democrats are hoping to represent House District 10 in Utah’s State Legislature. The seat is vacant after Rep. LaWanna “Lou” Shurtliff, D-Ogden, died at the end of December. Utah Democratic Party Chair Jeff Merchant said one reason there’s a lot of interest in the seat is because the representative from House District 10 is the only Democrat in the Utah Legislature who doesn’t live in Salt Lake County. Democratic delegates will vote on Shurtliff’s replacement in a special election Saturday. After that, the governor will appoint the winner as the new representative. Read the full story. — Emily Means

Region/Nation

Expert Cautions Against Counter Protests

The FBI has warned police chiefs across the country to be on high alert for extremist activity ahead of the inauguration next week. The Mountain West has long been a hotbed for these groups. The federal law enforcement agency said there is a possibility anti-government groups and militias may target state capitols, federal buildings, businesses and the homes of congressional members. But Kristin Hoover, director of the Institute of Hate Studies at Gonzaga University in eastern Washington, said if there are rallies, community members shouldn’t organize any counter protests. She warned that would just create opportunities for further harm. — Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau

Lawsuits Seek To Overturn Wolf Protections

Wildlife advocates are asking a federal court to overturn a decision from the U.S. government that removes protections for wolves under the Endangered Species Act. Two coalitions of advocacy groups filed lawsuits Thursday in U.S. District Court in Northern California. The Trump administration announced in October that wolves were considered recovered from near-extinction across most of the country. Critics say wolves still need these protections so fledgling populations in Colorado and on the West Coast can continue expanding. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said gray wolves have exceeded goals for recovery. — Associated Press