Letters From the West

Beavers that prevent fuel leak from spreading in Utah refuge recovering

A family of beavers prevented a leak of the gasoline pipeline that runs from Salt Lake City through Idaho to Spokane from spreading over a wide area of Willard Bay State Park last month in Utah.

One of the hero beavers gets a bath at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah. (Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah photo)

One of the hero beavers gets a bath from Dalyn Erickson-Marthaler at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah. (Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah photo)

 

Their dam kept the spill of about 27,000 gallons of diesel fuel from polluting a wide area of a refuge on the northeast arm of Great Salt Lake.  The six beavers paid for their community service with petroleum burns that Utah officials treated with baths of Dawn dish soap and water at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah.

The Chevron pipeline, which supplies Boise with gasoline and diesel fuel, had two earlier leaks that prompted federal officials to fine the company $400,000. Chevron also donated $10,000 to the wildlife center to cover the costs of the treatments.

Four of the beavers are recovering really well, said DaLyn Erickson-Marthaler, Executive Director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah. But two juveniles are covered in infections but improving.

“The younger ones are still struggling,” Erickson-Marthaler said.

Chevron reopened the pipeline but the park remains closed. No leaks have been reported in Idaho.

Pipelines are regulated by the federal Pipeline Hazardous Material Public Safety Administration.

Gov. Gary Herbert has criticized Chevron and the federal agency for allowing repeated leaks. Already the fuel has been detected in the groundwater beneath Willard Bay, a 10,000-acre reservoir on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

“We need to take a more proactive stance as a state,” said at a press conference according to the Associated Press. “With interstate pipelines, that’s a federal responsibility of the Pipeline Hazardous Material Public Safety Administration – which is a mouthful to say – and obviously they’ve not done a very good job of overseeing the pipes that travel between our states.”

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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