ST. GEORGE – The final version of land use plans governing more than 100,000 acres of public land in Washington County was released Wednesday by the Bureau of Land Management, just days before a court-ordered deadline of Dec. 31.
“It’s a big task to push it to the finish line,” BLM St. George Field Office Manager Brian Tritle said.
“This is a great day because we do have records of decision for two national conservation areas now, that have very clear purposes established by Congress,” Tritle said.
Multiple-use plans for the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash national conservation areas will protect wildlife, wildlife habitat, scenery, cultural resources and recreational uses, he said.
“It’s kind of that full spectrum of protection that these plans lay the foundation for,” Tritle said. “That’s something that we’re very proud of.”
The management plans have been the subject of heated debate among residents, county officials and conservation groups. County and transportation officials say the plans go too far in restricting land use while conservationists favor more restrictive elements of the plans.
The plans are essentially unchanged from the proposed final resource management plans released in September 2016, BLM and county officials said.
County officials protested the BLM’s proposed final resource management plans in October, saying that progress had been made but areas of concern remained, including a proposed northern corridor across the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.
The county is still looking through the RODs and exploring options for dealing with issues that were not resolved such as a northern corridor, Deputy Washington County Attorney Celeste Maloy said in a statement.
For many of the areas of concern, an appeal must first go through a BLM administrative process, Maloy said.
“Others may be taken directly to a federal court. The county is still analyzing the RODs (records of decision) to determine which issues, if any, to appeal.” Maloy said.
The proposed northern corridor is one of the biggest sticking points.
Under the management plan, all BLM-managed lands in the Red Cliffs National Recreation area are designated as corridors, exclusion zones or avoidance areas. Avoidance areas include existing utilities such as wells and power lines.
“We’ve got good practices in place that allow utility maintenance and even expansion to take place without harming the tortoise,” Tritle said.
A right of way cannot be granted in an exclusion area, but it is theoretically possible in an avoidance area, Tritle said.
The less-restrictive avoidance area was configured to accommodate local planners’ preferred alternative route for a northern corridor, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area Manager Dawna Ferris-Rowley said.
However, there are very stringent guidelines that would have to be met for such a project.
“They’re very, very strict, I mean they’re extraordinarily protective,” Ferris-Rowley said.
A draft BLM travel management plan for public lands in the county will be released this year and will include the county’s proposed northern corridor routes.
The travel plan will look at existing roads, tracks and trails and make a determination about their continued use; state and county officials are participating in the process.
“We’re going to consider routes that could be used for a northern transportation route,” Tritle said.
Considering future highway routes is not typically done in a travel plan, Ferris-Rowley said, but the agency was directed to do so in the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act.
“Just because of that really specific language, we must deal with it in travel planning,” Ferris-Rowley said.
“The bar is high, I mean there are these criteria in here that are hard to meet,” Tritle said. “It’s not that it (northern corridor) can’t be done, but it will be a design challenge, for sure. But we will comply with the law.”
Still in question are management designations for the 6,500 acres within the Red Cliffs National Recreation Area that are owned by the State Institutional Trust Land Administration.
Exclusion and avoidance zones cannot be determined for the trust lands unless or until the lands are sold or traded to the BLM and become part of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.
Trust lands are currently managed under the terms of the Habitat Conservation Plan for the protection of the desert tortoise.
The new resource management plans were mandated by the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009; work began in 2010 after Congress authorized funding for the plans. Scoping meetings and open houses were held and draft plans were released for public review in July 2015.
Originally under a June 30, 2016, court-ordered deadline, the BLM was granted an extension by U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups of the 10th Circuit Court in Denver in March.
Waddoups set a new deadline of Dec. 31 to allow time for a longer comment period, a move which Washington County officials supported.
A Record of Decision was published in the Federal Register Wednesday detailing the final resource management plans for Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash national conservation areas as well as an amendment to the St. George Field Office management plan.
The St. George Field Office resource management plan amendment addresses two primary management issues, as directed by the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009: identification of areas where biological conservation is needed and modifications of the off-highway vehicle area designations in preparation for the development of a travel management plan in the county.
Copies of the documents are available for inspection during normal business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday with the exception of federal holidays at these locations:
- Interagency Public Lands Information Center, 345 E. Riverside Drive in St. George.
- BLM Utah State Office Public Room, 440 W. 200 South, Suite 500, Salt Lake City during normal business hours (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), Monday through Friday, except federal holidays.
- The documents are also available for download here.
Implementation-level decisions in the resource management plans can be appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. These implementation-level decisions are noted in the RODs for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs NCAs in the livestock grazing and recreation sections; anyone can file an appeal.
Any party adversely affected by the implementation-level decisions may appeal within 30 days of publication of Notice of Availability for the RODs. The appeal should state the specific numbered decision and the rationale for the appeal. A Notice of Appeal must be filed in writing to:
BLM Utah State Office
440 West 200 South, Suite 500
Salt Lake City, Utah 84101-1345
At the same time, a copy of the Notice of Appeal must also be sent to:
U.S. Department of the Interior
6201 Federal Building
1235 South State Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84138-1180
For additional information, contact Keith Rigtrup at 435-865-3000.
Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf may call the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.
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