Utah faith leaders call upon legislature to protect the Great Salt Lake

Deeda Seed welcomes participants to the Great Salt Lake news conference held at the capitol building on Thursday morning. Utah faith leaders encouraged legislators to pass legislation that will restore the Great Salt Lake’s ecological health. (Marissa Lundeen)

Utah religious leaders gathered for a news conference at the capitol Thursday morning in an effort to urge Utah lawmakers to restore the Great Salt Lake’s ecological health.

The namesake of Utah’s capital city, the Great Salt Lake is the largest saline lake in the western hemisphere and the eighth largest saline lake in the world. Consisting of 1,700 square miles of water environments and 360,000 acres of wetlands, the Great Salt Lake is vital to Utah’s economy, ecology and wildlife.

In a recent study published by BYU and other contributing universities and organizations, the Great Salt Lake was declared as being in a state of “unprecedented danger,” citing that without a dramatic increase to the lake’s water flow in the next couple of years the disappearance of the lake would cause incredible damage to Utah’s public health, environment and economy.

Leaders from various faiths demanded action from the Utah legislature in Thursday’s news conference, uniting their voices and communities with the goal of preserving Utah’s salty wonder. Deeda Seed, public lands senior campaigner for the Center of Biological Diversity, conducted the event.

Monica Hilding, representing the Utah Environmental Caucus, holds a sign advocating for the preservation of the Great Salt Lake. A recent report announced that emergency measures are needed in order to rescue the Great Salt Lake from collapse. (Marissa Lundeen)

Rachael Lauritzen, vice chair of the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance, was one of six faith leaders to speak at the news conference. Lauritzen said people of faith have a unique responsibility to preserve the Great Salt Lake, and emphasized religious peoples’ recognition of the earth as a gift from God as a reason to preserve the Great Salt Lake.

“Let us not trade our birthright for a mess of pottage, but go forth as wise stewards of all that we have been given and benefitted by, for the welfare of all,” Lauritzen said, alluding to the notorious Biblical story of Esau exchanging his birthright for a bowl of stew.

Many faith leaders who spoke cited the January Great Salt Lake report as a call to action, acknowledging that if drastic measures are not taken now, immense ecological damage is imminent.

“The ecological crisis facing the Great Salt Lake is also a crisis of faith,” Reverend Monica Dobbins said, assistant minister at First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. “It is a big responsibility and we cannot allow ourselves to fail. Universalists hear a call to action in the recent report. This report warns us we are underestimating the consequences of losing the lake.”

Ben Abbott, assistant professor of ecosystem ecology at BYU, also spoke and shared three reasons why he considers preserving the Great Salt Lake to be a religious matter.

“First, the consequences of losing the lake are absolutely biblical in proportion. This threat is on par with an Old Testament plague or a civilization-ending period of pride in the Book of Mormon. Either we bring our behavior into alignment with God’s natural laws, or we suffer the consequences. The stakes couldn’t be higher,” Abbott said.

BYU professor Ben Abbott speaks at the news conference held Thursday morning. Abbott was one of six speakers that called upon Utah legislators to protect the Great Salt Lake. (Marissa Lundeen)

Secondly, environmental stewardship, according to Abbott, is also an attribute of spiritual health. Scripture defines the two greatest commandments as loving God and loving our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40), and Abbott believes we love our neighbor by caring for our environment so as to create better lives for not only ourselves but the generations that follow.

Abbott concluded his remarks by sharing his third and last point, calling for unity and trust as the Utah community works together to protect Utah’s natural resources.

“This crisis is coming to a head at a moment of unprecedented anxiety, suspicion and even hatred of one another. We are in desperate need of healing and reconciliation. Imagine what we could do, if we could set aside our suspicion and resentment. Our efforts have been hobbled by uncharitable assumptions and pride,” Abbott said. “United in our commitment to honor God and care for our neighbor, we could root out the poisonous seed at the root of this problem and so many of the issues harming our society today.”

Members of faith groups had written postcards urging legislators to save the Great Salt Lake. At the conclusion of the news conference, participants collected the postcards and delivered them to legislators.

Several bills that would assist in the Great Salt Lake restoration effort are currently being discussed in the state legislature. HB286, HB349 and SB118 are several pieces of legislation that Great Salt Lake advocates are hopeful for. (Marissa Lundeen)

Faith leaders encouraged Utahns to call their representatives and advocate for legislation in the 2023 session that will help preserve the Great Salt Lake. HB286, HB349 and SB118 are three pieces of legislation Great Salt Lake advocates are hopeful for.

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