ST. GEORGE – A judge has granted an extension of a June 30 deadline for the Bureau of Land Management to finalize resource management plans for Washington County’s two national conservation areas.
U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups of the 10th Circuit Court in Denver granted a motion Thursday allowing an extension of the court-ordered management plan and setting a new deadline of December 31, a move which county officials support.
“The county had passed a resolution supporting (the extension) because part of the reason that they are taking longer is because they are taking time to sit down and seriously address the concerns the county’s raised,” Deputy Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke said.
The management plans have been the subject of heated debate among residents, county officials and conservation groups. County officials say the plans go too far in restricting land use in the county’s two national conservation areas while conservationists favor more restrictive elements of the plans.
The draft management plans affect some, but not all, BLM-managed land in Washington County, primarily the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash national conservation areas.
The plans were released by BLM July 16 for a 90-day comment period but county officials objected to several provisions in the plans and requested an extension of the comment period.
Even December 31 is still a tight schedule for the BLM, National Conservation Manager Dawna Ferris-Rowley said, as several steps remain in the process.
“Right now we’re working on comments analysis. We had a little more than 6,000 public comments,” she said.
“We’ve been reviewing the comments and looking at the substantive comments and preparing responses and also working toward developing our proposed plans and pretty regular coordination with the cooperating agencies so having extra time will certainly help us.”
The next step is developing the two proposed final plans for the two national conservation area and a proposed final plan for the RMP amendment. In addition, a final environmental impact statement is being prepared which will be opened for a 30-day public comment period.
At the same time, a governor’s consistency review will happen in which the Governor’s office will analyze the management plans for consistency with state and local plans.
The BLM is also preparing a biological statement for submission to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based on the management actions in the proposed plans as they relate to any species that are listed as endangered.
Typically, going from a draft plan to a proposed plan can be a year’s worth of work, Ferris-Rowley said.
“We’re going to continue to be diligent moving forward because even December 31 is still an aggressive schedule.”
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