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AM News Brief: Prison Protest, Outdoor Visitor Counts & Early Season Wildfires

Photo of smoke on a mountain past a lake.
Utah Fire Info
Utah's wildfire season is off to a bad start. This story and more in the Tuesday morning news brief.

Tuesday morning, April 13, 2021


Wildfires Burn Early

Utah's wildfire season is off to a bad start. According to Utah Wildfire Info there have already been more than 126 wildfires this year across the state, burning more than 6,200 acres. Officials said that's higher than the past 5-year average for this time of year with 46 fires burning 189 acres. Most of the fires have been human-caused. — Pamela McCall

Southern Utah

Iron County Creates Constitutional Defense Council

The Iron County Commission passed an ordinance Monday to create a “Constitutional Defense Council.” The council would advise the commission on the constitutionality of federal mandates and stems from concerns about laws related to gun control. The Utah Legislature passed a similar bill in 2013 to challenge federal orders, updating it earlier this year. Iron County’s council would also advise the commission on state mandates though. Justin Collings, a law professor at Brigham Young University, said it’s not within the county’s power to declare laws unconstitutional. Read the full story. — Lexi Peery, St. George

Northern Utah

Prison Protest

Friends and family of people held in Utah prisons have planned a protest for Tuesday morning. The state corrections department ended a policy in 2019 that separated members of rival gangs. In a memo at the time, Utah Corrections Executive Director Mike Haddon said the separation policy was always meant to be temporary. Sue Steel with the Prisoner Advocate Group said integrating those inmates has resulted in violence. Steel said she has heard from family members recently who are concerned about their loved ones’ safety and the risk of longer sentences if they are involved in a fight while in prison. — Emily Means

Sheriff’s Deputy Released from Hospital

A Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy lost an eye in a shootout over the weekend has been released from the hospital. The sheriff's office said Deputy Leland Grossett underwent surgery on Saturday, and was released on Monday. Another deputy was shot in the cheek, and he was released from the hospital on Saturday. Joshua Michael Johnson opened fire on the deputies as they approached him outside of the county jail. The deputies killed Johnson in the gunfire. — Associated Press

City Park Restrooms

Salt Lake City has opened a limited number of park restrooms with an attendant to clean them after each use. Salt Lake City Public Lands said most other restrooms will open when the city is at a low COVID-19 level. At that point, pavilion reservations and drinking fountains will also reopen. Meanwhile, the Utah Department of Health reported 185 new COVID-19 cases Monday. The state’s test positivity rate is now at 3.7% — slightly higher since this time last week. — Pamela McCall


Drought Could Hit Farmers and Ranchers Hard

The likelihood of another summer of drought is worrying farmers and ranchers across the Colorado River basin. Extreme to exceptional drought is affecting more than 75% of the river’s upper watershed in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah. The president of the Colorado Farm Bureau said ranchers will likely need to secure additional feed for their cattle or be forced to sell them. River flows across the basin are expected to be below average this runoff season due to record-dry soil conditions in some areas. — Luke Runyon, KUNC

Counting Outdoor Visitors

A recent study is recommending different tools for federal and state officials to monitor outdoor recreation numbers — like using data from social media tags, fitness tracking apps and internet search history for trails. Researcher Megan Lawson with the think-tank Headwaters Economics in Bozeman, Montana said that while federal agencies are mandated to count recreation on public lands, the tools they use now are inefficient. She said accurate trail usage numbers could result in more funding for Western communities strained by the influx of visitors during the pandemic. — Robyn Vincent, Mountain West News Bureau

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