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.
“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.
Local officials and others in Washington County have been quite vocal about their feelings toward the BLM’s proposed plans.
“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.
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.
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.
- BLM’s Draft Resource Management Plans can be reviewed here
- Omnibus Public Lands Fact Sheet
- Washington Parkway Cost Benefit Study
- Citizens for Dixie’s Future website, Public Lands Web page
- 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.
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