Northern corridor through tortoise habitat? Maybe, maybe not

Red Cliffs National Conservation Area | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
In Alternative D, the proposed BLM corridor is shown in pink, Washington County's preferred northern corridor route is shown in black, and the yellow lines denote other routes the county has studied | Image courtesy of BLM
In Alternative D, the proposed BLM corridor is shown in pink, Washington County’s preferred northern corridor route is shown in black, and the yellow lines denote other routes the county has studied | Image courtesy of BLM, St. George News | Click on map to enlarge

ST. GEORGE – A proposed northern transportation corridor through desert tortoise habitat has left county transportation officials frustrated and conservationists calling it a “bad idea.”

A draft resource management plan issued by the Bureau of Land Management-Utah for the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area does not list the county’s optimal route in its “preferred” alternative.


Read more: Northern corridor plans slighted in BLM’s draft area management plans


The Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional planning authority, has proposed a northern corridor route that would run from Interstate 15 at Washington Parkway to Red Hills Parkway east of the new intersection with state Route 18 north of Bluff Street.

Alternative B, the BLM’s preferred alternative, does not include any new transportation routes. However, Alternative D includes several routes in a 6,350-acre utility corridor which includes rights of way for power and water lines.


Read more about Alternatives A-D here: BLM open house draws diverse crowd, many concerns


Local officials have stated that the draft plans do not include the county’s preferred northern transportation route at all; BLM St. George Field Office Manager Brian Tritle, however, said that’s not the case.

Transportation planners have considered several northern routes over the years, and all of them, including the county’s preferred route, were included in Alternative D, Tritle said.

By including several routes in the draft plan, the BLM is showing the potential impacts of actions in those areas. Any route that is not considered in this stage of the planning process could not become a reality, at least for the life of the management plan, which is typically 20 or more years.

“I think it’s in the county’s best interest to have those multiple routes still in play at this point, because this (RMP) is not the be-all and end-all,” Tritle said.

Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Myron Lee said in an earlier interview that the BLM’s draft management plan states a much higher impact on the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area than MPO planners believe is accurate.

Tritle said that doesn’t matter, because the proposed final plan can include options from any of the alternatives in the draft management plans. The alternatives A through D each have themes based on the level of allowed human uses.

“We’re not saying that the impacts of Alternative D are all because of the northern corridor,” Tritle said, “we’re stating ‘this is the least restrictive use alternative, and so here would be the potential impacts of activities that took place in these areas.'”

A tortoise fence marks the boundary of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, St. George, Utah, Aug. 29, 2015 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
A tortoise fence marks the boundary of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, St. George, Utah, Aug. 29, 2015 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

Specifics

To get a specific road built, the BLM would first have its own biologists analyze the impacts, and the BLM would then have to seek a biological decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The issue is complicated by the fact that the county’s preferred northern corridor goes through desert tortoise habitat set aside by a Habitat Conservation Plan, land which is part of the county’s mitigation for tortoise ‘take’ in other areas of the county.

Also, some of the land in the county’s preferred northern corridor is still owned by private landowners who need to be compensated for their land with money or land exchanges, National Conservation Area Manager Dawna Ferris-Rowley said.

For the northern corridor to become a reality, Tritle said, the final resource management plan would need to say it was an acceptable alternative. Then, BLM would work with the county to issue a right-of-way grant, and an acceptable biological opinion on the project would need to be issued by Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We know, today, that our decision needs to not jeopardize the desert tortoise,” Tritle said, “and we don’t make that call.”

Rather, it will be Fish and Wildlife biologists who make the determination of whether or not something jeopardizes the tortoise habitat.

Desert tortoise in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Ivins, Utah, May 20, 2013 | Photo by Ron Olroyd, St. George News
Desert tortoise in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Ivins, Utah, May 20, 2013 | Photo by Ron Olroyd, St. George News

However, there is room in the process for negotiation, Larry Crist said at a Habitat Conservation Advisory Committee meeting Sept. 22. Crist represents the Fish and Wildlife Service on the advisory committee.

“Usually we’re able to work something out,” Crist said.

Building the northern corridor through sensitive habitat would involve a separate environmental impact statement, Tritle said. The resource management plans can allocate the land as a corridor, but not approve a specific road project.

Opposition to the northern corridor

Citizens for Dixie’s Future, a local conservation advocacy group, opposes any new transportation route through the Red Cliffs Reserve in Washington County.

“There are a lot of reasons it’s a bad idea, but the primary one is, this is supposed to be protected land,” Susan Crook said in an earlier interview. Crook is the Public Lands Conservation Program Manager for Citizens for Dixie’s Future.

Building a road through the reserve would be detrimental, Crook said, to the views, scenery, habitat, recreation, scientific and cultural resources – all the values the reserve was created to protect.

Citizens for Dixie’s Future is in favor of protecting the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area and preserving the habitat for the tortoise, while balancing those uses with recreation if possible.

The group believes building the northern corridor would cause harm to the desert tortoise habitat, and that mitigation is not possible.

Crook believes traffic engineers and transportation planners should be more creative in trying to solve transportation needs in Southern Utah, she said, and find solutions other than the northern corridor.

Related posts

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

 

 

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9 Comments

  • fun bag October 4, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    ‘conservation’ is the dirtiest word in a mormon-republican’s vocabulary..

    • Californicater October 5, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      Is everything you say anti-Mormon/Utah? I just don’t get you. I, too, am not Mormon but I choose to have a winter home in STG because I love this community. I KNEW the predominant religion was LDS and KNEW the predominant political persuasion was Conservative-Republican when I bought my place. Did you not know? If you are so intolerant of the predominant religion and their lifestyle, why do you stay? I can rent you a place in California where I think you would feel more at home and might even be appreciated. Do you really think that your snide, throw-away comments are making a difference? Epiphany: “Oh my gosh! Fun Bag made a snide remark and I just realized he was right! I’m cured!!!!” I bet you are a pleasure to be around. If I was such a negative smarta$$ all the time, I would definitely have my head checked. Intolerance is bigotry. Maybe you should change your Handle to “FUN BIGOT”

      • fun bag October 5, 2015 at 5:59 pm

        so basically you agree with the orig statement, fornicater?

        • Californicater October 6, 2015 at 1:22 pm

          Not at all and your response defines your take on the world as you see it in a nutshell. You should expend some of that negative energy you have doing something constructive to society instead of trying to tear down others. What would it hurt? Run for office. Support the arts. Contribute through time and labor as well as financially to your favorite conservation. Whatever.,. To sit there and shoot spitballs at everyone as they walk by does no good. It’s just being a bully… As always, JMHFO

  • beacon October 4, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    I certainly hope that when Larry Crist says “we can usually work things out” that does not imply that USFWS would be willing to roll over on the issue of the Northern Corridor. There is no way that the road preferred by DixieMPO, commissioners and other local leaders would be in keeping with the mission of the NCA and Reserve. We need agencies that are willing and able to stand against strong local political pressures to do what’s truly right. Our community will not be diminished by not having this contentious road. It will instead be bolstered by keeping this area pristine for current and future generations to enjoy.

    • fun bag October 4, 2015 at 6:02 pm

      i agree, unfortunately the local political mentality will always be “use it all up while the $$$ is good”. greed above all else, and wayyyy too many $$$ special interests, mainly developers in this area

    • wilbur October 5, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      Don’t worry, the good old boys at USFWS will trade land with BLM, BLM will trade with SITLA, and SITLA will sell prime housing development land to the $nc*s, &e%%i%gs and what not, for the children, don’cha know?

  • Common Sense October 4, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    Are we saving the desert tortoise or not? I love the desert reserve. I see tortoises out there all the time.

  • tcrider October 4, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    I think an access or frontage road would be a excellent idea, more access points with parking areas would benefit the general public, the general public are the tax payers who actually own this to begin with, not a couple of tree huggers that don’t want anyone to be able access the area.
    Another idea would be to build some nice blacktop bike trails in and around the reserve, so more people that actually paid for reserve (the tax payers) could enjoy the reserve, and use reserve budget dollars for the trails.

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