ST. GEORGE – County officials are objecting to several parts of a recently released BLM draft resource management plan, including provisions to close an open travel ATV area, introduce condors to the national recreation areas, and reduce recreational uses on two national conservation areas and other BLM land in the county.
“The resource management plans … that the BLM or the Forest Service write – once they’re in their final form, this becomes the governing document until they write a new one in 20 or 30 years,” Deputy County Attorney Celeste Maloy said.
“If we don’t get it changed, then the things I’m about to show you become the rule for the BLM to be following for another generation,” she added.
The Washington County Attorney’s Office has been analyzing the documents on behalf of the county government and county residents.
Maloy presented the findings at a regular meeting of the Washington County Planning Commission Tuesday.
It’s very important for the county, local municipalities and residents to become informed and to comment on the draft plans, Maloy said, because currently, most comments received by the BLM are one-sided.
When the BLM releases draft plans, Maloy said, organizations such as Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society and the Center for Biological Diversity encourage their members to comment.
These organizations have large mailing lists of members throughout the country and the world, and that results in agencies like the BLM receiving a large volume of comments, predominantly in favor of the most restrictive alternatives, Maloy said.
“So we’re trying to get those who live here in the county and will be affected by this on a daily basis informed as to what’s in the plan so (the BLM) can get comments from people who live here,” she said.
The county will be applying for an extension of the comment period, which is normally pretty simple, Maloy said.
“This one is a little bit complicated, because there is a separate lawsuit from a landowner in the county,” Maloy added. “Part of the resolution of that lawsuit, or the settlement, is that they would get this done quickly.”
Alternative D is the only one that mentions a northern corridor, which county officials have been planned for decades.
Alternative D would designate a 6,350-acre utility and transportation corridor in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. However, the corridor runs north and south and would not help transportation officials build a route to move traffic east to west across the county.
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 NCA than MPO planners believe is accurate.
The county’s preferred northern corridor route would only impact 50 acres of the resource management plan area and 150 acres at the most of the Habitat Conservation Plan area, Lee said.
“(The proposed utility corridor) may satisfy the letter of the law,” Maloy said, “but it clearly doesn’t satisfy the spirit of the agreement.”
The resource management plan proposes that endangered California condors be introduced into the national conservation areas in the county, Maloy said.
Language in the draft management plans states that condors already in the county are part of an experimental population and so are not subject to the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.
However, if condors are introduced into the county’s national conservation areas, they will be fully protected, the same as the desert tortoise.
Loss of open ride ATV area, gold mining in Bull Valley
The draft plan proposes changing the county’s largest ATV open ride area near Bull Valley Mountains in western Washington County to a multispecies management area, Maloy said.
“And we haven’t been able to find anywhere in BLM regulations what a multispecies management area is,” Maloy said, “so how far they would be able to go in restricting access is sort of up in the air … but it will not be an open ATV ride area. So it will be the loss of the biggest open area in the county.”
There are no known protected species in the 87,000-acre area, Maloy said.
In addition, the area’s closure will eliminate access to active mining claims in the Mineral Mountain area, Maloy said.
Language about water in the draft plans has county officials concerned, as well, Maloy said.
“In both national conservation areas, they are proposing that they buy up all of the water rights: surface water, ground water, all point sources that are within the NCAs,” Maloy said, “and that they don’t authorize any uses that would export water from the NCAs.”
This is a big issue because the Navajo aquifer lies under the Red Cliffs NCA, which borders most of the population of the county, Maloy said.
While the draft plans propose “willing buyer, willing seller” transactions, it’s a concern that no uses that export water from the NCAs are allowed in the draft plans.
Keeping all water on the NCA could affect municipal water supplies and growth.
Under the BLM’s preferred Alternative B, grazing utilization levels would be cut to 40 percent of the current year’s vegetation growth in designated critical habitat for the desert tortoise, Maloy said, and this would significantly reduce grazing from its current level.
Currently, there are over 3,000 animal unit months (AUMs) in the Beaver Dam NCA, but that number would go down if the draft plans remain unchanged.
The number would be set by a running 20-year average of actual use, not allowed use, Maloy said, which means that ranchers who voluntarily cut back cattle numbers in a dry year would lose AUMs in the long term.
“So it punishes good stewards,” Maloy said. “Overall, there would be a large loss of grazing in the county.”
Any grazing permits that are voluntarily relinquished would be permanently retired.
Eliminated recreational uses
In one or more of the BLM alternatives, several recreational uses would be eliminated in the NCAs, Maloy said, including:
- The collection of fossils and petrified wood
- Competitive equestrian and motorized events
- Metal detecting and geocaching
- take off and landing of remote-controlled aircraft or powered parachutes
- Dispersed camping and OHV use are further restricted
Language specifying that the BLM cooperate and collaborate with state, county, local governments and interested parties has been removed from the plan.
“They’re still required by law to cooperate, but when it’s written in the plan, it gives the counties and the state something to turn to to say, ‘You’re not following your plan, you don’t come talk to us before you make decisions,'” Maloy said. “And that’s just been systematically removed from all three of the alternatives.”
A 12,506-acre management corridor is proposed in Alternatives B, C and D for the Old Spanish Historic Trail in the Beaver Dam Wash NCA, Maloy said.
In the draft management plans, paleontological and heritage sites would be protected where they are “projected to occur,” Maloy said. However, there is no definition or description of how the BLM would project where these sites could occur.
“Arguably, every acre in this county is projected to have dinosaur bones or tracks or some sort of historical artifacts or pioneer significance,” Maloy said.
Only planting of native seeds would be allowed, even after fires when the land is denuded; and the use of fire as a management tool would be eliminated.
The BLM draft plans propose three new areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs) in Alternative B to protect sensitive species like the Geirish mallow, which would impose restrictions on current mountain biking, OHV and hiking areas. These are not necessary to properly manage the areas and are the equivalent to “backdoor wilderness” designations, according to material provided by the county attorney’s office.
How to comment
The County Attorney’s Office offers these suggestions for commenting:
Effective comments refer to specific details of the draft NCA RMPs or draft amendment. They address substantive issues, such as the accuracy of BLM’s information sources; provide new information; or suggest reasonable alternative courses of action.
All comments will be considered during BLM’s decision-making process, but only substantive comments will be addressed in the Proposed NCA RMPs and Proposed RMP Amendment/Final EIS. We need comments that not only state a preference for certain management actions but also include the reason for that preference.
Written comments on the recently released draft management plans for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs national conservation areas are being accepted through Oct. 15.
Comments will be accepted by letter or email until Oct. 15. The most useful comments are those that contain new technical or scientific information relevant to the proposed action, the BLM said a news release.
Comments should be as specific as possible. Comments that 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 to:
BLM-Utah St. George Field Office
Attn: Keith Rigtrup
345 East Riverside Drive
St. George, UT 84790
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.
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