Couple Share Commitment for Environment

By Donna Spangler

Wintertime means lots of fine particulates in the air, the oh-so-dreaded inversions. But it’s also February, and that means something else is in the air – love.

Just ask Deborah McMurtrie, part of the Division of Air Quality’s Technical Analysis section, where her group collects and manages emissions information in a database of industrial emission sources, and her husband Jim Martin, a hydrogelogist with the Division of Drinking Water, responsible for making sure new and existing sources of drinking water meet federal protection standards.


Together, they share a passion for Utah’s environment that spans 48 combined years. That, and a 5 acre alpaca ranch in Kamas where they practice eco-farming.

With 21 alpacas, four llamas, two horses, five dogs, three cats and 16 chickens, their Kamas ranch is considered by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food as a small Animal Feed Operation, or AFO. These types of agricultural operations have the potential for adding polluting runoff to the waterways, and management practices are developed to control and prevent such runoff.

Last summer the couple participated in the Summit County Community Solar program, and installed 24 solar panels on their barn to “practice what they preach.”  The panels should generate the property’s full demand for electricity. And they consult with the Federal Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services for advice on water retention, wastewater management and erosion prevention. They even have built an oxygenated composter.

“We want to improve our land, keep the pastures healthy, and manage any runoff,” says Jim.

Deb has worked for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality for 20 years and Jim for 28, but they did not meet until 10 years ago at an office Halloween party. Jim was dressed as a mountain man, which caught Deb’s attention. Their relationship grew organically, taking shape from the interests they enjoy.

“I enjoy knitting and spinning and was looking to expand on those interests, particularly post-retirement” Deb says, which is why she began raising alpacas. She shears her alpacas (some named after preferred beverages: Remy Martin, Cuervo and Porter). She sends the fleeces to a Utah mill that spins it into yarn she then sells. Jim is a part-time professional actor who introduced Deb to the historical mountain man rendezvous where they reenact the fur trapper period of the 1820s to 1840s.

“Jim makes his own clothing, and many of the tools needed to be a fur trapper during that period” Deb points out. “It’s really fascinating and fun.”


Like many successful working couples they share the responsibilities. For them that means tending to the animals – which often brings chaos and surprises. “This morning the cats gifted us with three dead voles deposited in the kitchen, and when I let the dogs out I was greeted with the pungent aroma of annoyed skunk,” says Deb, who recounted the incident in a recent Facebook posting.

Jim, a native Utahn, has also made a name for himself as a rugged, kilt-wearing man’s man kind of model for artists and photographers, with images of him hanging as far afield as Eugene, Oregon and Paris, France.

What does this amazing couple plan to do to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Feed the alpacas, of course. And do their part to make Utah a cleaner, better place to live.

There are a few couples who work at DEQ. Do you work with a partner? Share your secrets for success in the comments.


Donna Kemp Spangler Communications Director/ Public Information Officer

I am the Communications Director for the Department of Environmental Quality who met my husband of 15 years while working at the Deseret News. We both enjoy the outdoors where I volunteer for my husband’s nonprofit organization, the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance.