BLM management plans: County objects to ‘misleading’ BLM FAQs, comment deadline looms

ST. GEORGE – County officials are objecting to statements published on a Bureau of Land Management website about draft management plans for two national conservation areas, and are asking that the information be corrected or taken down.

“We have concerns with inaccuracies,” Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said, “and some disagreements over interpretation of law.”

A letter sent by the County Commission to local, district and state BLM officials points out what county officials feel are inaccurate and misleading statements on an FAQ Web page, and asks that the page be corrected or removed.

“It’s very important that the public be able to go onto the website, especially … an official government website, and get the most accurate facts,” Iverson said.

The draft management plans for the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash national conservation areas in Washington County have stirred heated debate. County, municipal and transportation officials have said the plans go too far in restricting land use, while conservationists favor more restrictive elements of the plans.

A series of BLM open houses were held to help inform the public, and a 90-day public comment period which began July 16 was extended past the original Oct. 15 deadline after local officials demanded more time.

The deadline for public comment was extended 30 days to Nov. 16.


Read more: County officials outraged by draft BLM plan, demand comment extension

Management plans for the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area are currently in a public comment period, St. George, Utah, Aug. 29, 2015 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Management plans for the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area are currently in a public comment period, St. George, Utah, Aug. 29, 2015 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

Iverson and Deputy Washington County Attorney Celeste Maloy, who analyzed the 1,100-page draft RMP for the county, said they feel progress has been made in discussions with the BLM. Communication has improved between the county and the BLM, with weekly meetings being held to discuss contentious issues.

“It seems like the culture has been sort of shifting here towards more cooperation,” Malloy said. “Things have been going really smoothly.”

However, at the same time the comment deadline was extended, the FAQs appeared on the website, Malloy said, some of which are misleading and others completely false.

“It felt like a big step back from all the progress we’ve made,” Malloy said.

Iverson, while still “extremely cautious,” he said, feels the county’s efforts to communicate directly and honestly about concerns seem to be working.

The BLM seems to have heard us, and I think (BLM St. George Field Office manager) Brian Tritle is trying to be a good field manager and do his duty” Iverson said. “I feel cautiously optimistic. I appreciate that it’s a long process.”

Tritle said that his office has taken a look at the county’s concerns about the FAQs, and will be making a few changes.

“We did feel the need to add more information and take a fresh look at our FAQs,” Tritle said. The FAQs will be updated soon, based on the county’s response.

The Yellow Knolls trail is part of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Washington County, Utah, Sept. 7, 2015 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
The Yellow Knolls trail is part of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Washington County, Utah, Sept. 7, 2015 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

“We are coordinating very closely with the county, we are meeting with them weekly to better understand their issues with the draft RMPs,” Tritle said. “I think we’re making progress, and the communication lines are wide open, and that’s a good thing.”

With the deadline for comments just 12 days away, Tritle is encouraging the public to submit comments.

Misstatements 

The FAQ page contains statements which the county considers inaccurate about endangered species, OHV access, the proposed northern corridor, analysis of land for wilderness characteristics and water rights, Iverson said.

Read more: Condors in Red Cliffs Reserve a possibility; lead ammo a concern

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

The issues raised by the county are these:

California condor and other protected species – The FAQ states that the BLM does not propose to authorize the reintroduction of endangered species and specifically the California condor; but the management actions regarding listed species and the condor clearly “authorize the reintroduction” of species.

OHV restrictions – The FAQ states that the draft plan does not close any areas to OHV travel; but OHV travel is significantly restricted by eliminating two open-ride areas and changing the vast majority of BLM managed lands designated “limited to existing roads and trails” to “limited to designated roads and trails (emphasis added).”

The change would result in the closure of any road or trail that is not included in the BLM travel management plan as a “designated” road or trail.

Northern corridor – The FAQ states that the BLM satisfied the requirement in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, or OPLMA, by identifying one or more alternatives for the northern transportation route; however, OPLMA requires the route identification in the travel management plan, which is yet to be completed, rather than the resource management plan

The only way for the BLM to fulfill the statutory requirement to consider a northern transportation route in the travel management plan is to include a corridor designation allowing such a route in the RMP.

Wilderness characteristics – The FAQ states that BLM is required by law to maintain an inventory of lands with wilderness characteristics; however, OPLMA states that a wilderness inventory is no longer required in Washington County.

With the passage of OPLMA, Congress made that determination for Washington County and released all of the land that was not designated as wilderness.

Water rights – The FAQ states that private, municipal and state water rights will not be impacted by the proposed plans; however, the draft plans propose a fundamental shift away from efforts to simply not jeopardize drinking water quality to pursuing acquisition of water rights from willing sellers, not authorizing land uses that would export water from the national conservation areas and seeking to obtain water rights on all inventoried point water sources.

BLM extends office hours, offers resources

To provide additional time for citizens to ask questions about the draft plans and learn more about submitting substantive comments, the BLM St. George Field Office has been extending its regular office hours before the comment period closes on Nov. 16. The BLM St. George Field Office is located at 345 E. Riverside Drive, St. George, Utah.

BLM staff familiar with the draft plans and draft amendment will be available to answer specific plan-related questions during the following times:

  • Tuesday Nov. 10, 5-7 p.m.
  • Saturday Nov. 7, 9-11 a.m.

How to comment

Written comments will be accepted by letter or email until Nov. 16, 2015.  Please note that the most useful comments are those that contain new technical or scientific information relevant to the proposed action. Comments should be as specific as possible. 

Comments which contain only opinions or preferences will not receive a formal response but may be considered in the BLM decision-making process.  Please reference “NCA RMPs” when submitting comments.

Please reference “NCA RMPs” in your correspondence. Written comments may be sent by mail or email using the following addresses:

By mail:

BLM-Utah St. George Field Office

Attn:  Keith Rigtrup

345 East Riverside Drive

St. George, UT 84790

By email:

utsgrmp@blm.gov

Before including an address, phone number, email address or other personally identifiable information in any comments, be aware that the entire comment — including personal identifying information — may be made publicly available at any time. Requests to withhold personal identifying information from public review can be submitted, but the BLM cannot guarantee that it will be able to accommodate those requests.

Resources

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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

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