Congressional hearing comes to St. George to address public lands issues

The Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, St. George, Utah, Aug. 29, 2015 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A congressional committee field hearing related to the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed plans for public lands in Washington County will be held in St. George Friday.

Titled “Ensuring Local Input, Legal Consistency and Multiple-Use Resource Management in St. George BLM Planning,” the field hearing is being conducted by the House Natural Resources Committee and will include members of Utah’s congressional delegation.

The BLM draft management plans currently open for public total 1,113 pages, St. George, Utah, Oct. 2, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News
The 1,100-page tome outlining the BLM draft management plans, St. George, Utah, Oct. 2, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News

“Local officials and members of the community are very concerned that the plans unduly restrict multiple-uses in the area, including recreation and grazing,” according to a press release from Rep. Chris Stewart’s Office. “There are also concerns that BLM has misinterpreted provisions of the (Omnibus Public Land Management Act) in the draft RMPs and did not adequately coordinate with the county and other local stakeholders in the draft’s development, which was publicly released in July 2015.”

Set for 10 a.m. Friday at the Dixie Center St. George, 1835 S. Convention Center Drive, the field hearing will include Reps. Rob Bishop and Stewart, who represent southwest Utah. Federal Lands Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock, R-California, will also be in attendance, as will as other committee members.

Individuals called to testify before the committee include:

  • Kathleen Clarke, director of the state’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, former director of the BLM under President George W. Bush.
  • Alan Gardner, Washington County Commissioner, also a member of the American Lands Council
  • Jon Pike, mayor of the City of St. George
  • Paul Van Dam, former executive director of Citizens for Dixie’s Future, also a former Utah attorney general
  • Jenna Whitlock, acting state director, Utah State Office, Bureau of Land Management

Following the 10 a.m. hearing, Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Bishop and Stewart will be in a listening session held at 1 p.m. at the Dixie Center that will cover additional issues related to public lands.

Topics of the listening session will include BLM law enforcement, federal agency actions against ranchers, potential collusion between federal agencies and environmental groups, the designation of monuments and the introduction of the Mexican wolf.

Background

Local officials and others in Washington County have been quite vocal about their feelings toward the BLM’s proposed plans.

Ivins City Mayor Chris Hart holds up an 1,100-page BLM draft resource management plan at a press conference held in September 2015 to highlight problems the plan, St. George, Utah, Sept. 10, 2015 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Ivins City Mayor Chris Hart holds up an 1,100-page BLM draft resource management plan at a press conference held in September 2015 to highlight problems the plan, St. George, Utah, Sept. 10, 2015 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

“To me, this is a 1,100-page minefield,” Ivins Mayor Chris Hart said during a meeting of county and municipal officials in September 2015. “The pages of this document … are laced with improvised explosive devices that are going to blow up in the faces of the residents of Washington County.”

Officials have also expressed that they see the proposed plan as a betrayal of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. That act created the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash national conservation areas, and was a collaborative effort between the county, municipalities, state and federal governments and conservation groups.

It was passed by Congress and intended to resolve conflicts between wilderness and lands use in Washington County.

The 2009 lands bill also instructed the Bureau of Land Management to write resource management plans for the two NCAs, Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said.

“The plans do not reflect the spirit or, in a lot of cases, the letter of the lands bill,” Iverson said.

Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, St. George, Utah, Aug. 29, 2015 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, St. George, Utah, Aug. 29, 2015 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

Iverson and other officials claim the BLM’s draft plan threatens transportation plans, municipal water rights, grazing and many types of recreation, including rock climbing, mountain biking, geocaching, target shooting, all-terrain vehicle and off-road uses, among others.

Public officials have also expressed aggravation over what they consider to be a lack of consideration by the BLM toward consulting with the county and City of St. George over its proposed plans. They have also said the BLM has been unwilling to consider the possibility of a northern transportation route in their preferred plans.

The route, better known locally as the northern corridor, is a proposed roadway local officials say was promised to the county in the 2009 lands bill.

While the proposed roadway isn’t in the BLM’s preferred plan, a potential northern roadway is featured in another plan. The BLM’s draft resource management plan is composed of four separate proposals titled Alternatives A, B, C and D. Each plan has themes and are categorized as more or less restrictive to human uses.

Route proposed for the northern corridor by the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization | Image Courtesy Dixie MPO, St. George News
Route proposed for the northern corridor by the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization | Image Courtesy Dixie MPO, St. George News | Click to enlarge image

Alternative A represents no change in land management, C is the most restrictive, D is the least restrictive and features the proposed roadway, while Alternative B, the BLM’s preferred alternative, is considered by BLM to be in the middle, said Brian Tritle, director of the BLM St. George Field Office.

“We feel that Congress has basically directed the Secretary of the Interior to give us the Northern Corridor, though will I admit the language is up to interpretation,” Iverson said in an August 2015 interview, “but we feel Congress’ intent was for us to have a Northern Corridor.”

Others disagree, as the proposed roadway would cut through desert tortoise habitat.

“There are a lot of reasons it’s a bad idea,” said Susan Crook of Citizens for Dixie’s Future, a local advocacy group, “but the primary one is this is supposed to be protected land …. Let’s live up to obligations that were made and that the county was a signatory to in the first place.”

The proposed northern corridor would be detrimental to all the values the reserve was created to protect, Crook said, which include conserving views, scenery, habitat, recreation, scientific and cultural resources.

St. George News Reporter Julie Applegate contributed to this story.

Resources

Event recap

  • What: House Natural Resources Committee field hearing and accompanying listen session
  • When: Field hearing starts at 10 a.m., the listening session starts at 1 p.m., Friday, Jan. 22
  • Where: The Dixie Center, 1835 S. Convention Center Drive, St George.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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10 Comments

  • KarenS January 22, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Thank you to Southernutahlive for the live streaming of the sad and sorry “listening” session this afternoon in front of Jason Chaffetz, Rob Bishop, and Chris Stewart. In a nutshell, it’s all President Obama’s fault. Listening to Mike Noel, Ron Thompson and others whine about how they can’t run cattle wherever they want or ride their ATV’s wherever they want. Pretty sad.

  • KarenS January 22, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    So, of the 14 people that were allowed to speak at the “listening” session only two (women, of course) recognized the importance of public lands to the public. One was a B&B owner in Torrey, Utah and the other was a retired guide who had extensive history with people who loved the lands we have in Utah. The B&B owner told about how her brothers who lived in Texas and ranched there had to come to Utah to hunt because there is no public land in Texas. It is all privately owned. They both also indicated that even if the lands were owned by the state, much would have to be sold because there is no way that it could be administered. The lands belong to all of us and only by leaving the lands to be administered by the federal government will it stay that way.

  • KarenS January 23, 2016 at 9:53 am

    A particularly interesting moment at the meeting was Mike Noel representing Kane County in the Utah Legislature. In his five minute rant, he called for defunding the BLM with some sort of warning about bloodshed. Then, after the meeting was adjourned and people started to leave he grabbed the microphone and ranted that someone had sent a negative tweet about his “bloodshed” comment and apparently he felt that he needed to clarify that he didn’t “call” for bloodshed. Ok thanks, Mike, for the clarification.

  • .... January 23, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Here comes that idiot Bundy and his band …
    Ed. ellipsis.

  • Rex January 23, 2016 at 11:13 am

    I think it was awesome that our governmental representatives cared enough to seek input from local people who will be affected by their decisions.

    • IDIOT COMMENTERS January 23, 2016 at 4:40 pm

      you are very naive

  • ladybugavenger January 23, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    This land is my land. This land is your land. From California to the New York islands. From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters. This land was made for you and me……anyone remember singing that in school? Nice tune but What a bunch of bs. The white people stole the land from the native Americans then wrote a nice tune.

    • .... January 24, 2016 at 10:37 am

      Oh quit your whining nothing was stolen from anybody it was never legally theirs in the first place

      • ladybugavenger January 24, 2016 at 1:44 pm

        Let’s talk about Legal for a moment ..all these illegal aliens here against the law getting food stamps and welfare assistance and making more money than me and you and not paying taxes….Trump for President!

  • .... January 25, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Native Americans are illegals to they came to this land and took it and claimed it was theirs. No passports and no deed to the land. there is no difference between them and Bundy and his band of morons

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