ST. GEORGE – The Washington County Commission ratified a protest to the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed final resource management plans at a regular meeting Tuesday.
Commissioners noted that while progress has been made, there are still areas of concern including the proposed northern corridor across tortoise habitat in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.
The Bureau of Land Management plans for the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash national conservation areas affect more than 100,000 acres in the county and stirred controversy during the public comment period that ended last fall.
“The county’s been as proactive as we can be with our local (BLM) office on this,” Deputy Washington County Attorney Eric Clarke said, “and feel like there’s been a lot of really positive changes from the draft plan to this one.”
For example, a proposal for an 87,000-acre wildlife management area has been withdrawn in the proposed final resource management plans; water rights language in the plans has also significantly changed.
“But there’s still aspects of the plans that the county feels like we need to protest,” Clarke said. “Things that are being put in place that would limit BLM’s consideration of the northern corridor are very problematic.”
Commissioner Zachary Renstrom said that language in the proposed final draft is still “more restrictive than wilderness.”
“Theoretically, if someone wanted to go up there hunting, they’d have to shoot the deer on the trail and hope the deer dropped dead on the trail,” Renstrom said.
“They restrict camping, they restrict rock climbing, they restrict hiking, they restrict – just lots of different activities that most people in this county love, using those lands,” Renstrom said.
While a lot of progress has been made, Commissioner Victor Iverson said it’s very important to protect the citizens’ standing by protesting the BLM plans.
The proposed resource management plan for the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area violates both the letter and the spirit of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, or OPLMA, a directive to the Secretary of Interior to identify alternatives for a northern transportation route, county officials said in the protest.
Alternative D in the management plans, which is not the BLM’s preferred alternative, is the only one that included any option for a northern transportation route.
“It is also the county’s position that including routes in one alternative of the RMP does not satisfy OPLMAs mandate to study one or more alternatives in the travel management plan,” the protest states.
“Although studying routes in the RMP is not the usual planning process, acts of Congress that specify a planning requirement are sufficient to change the normal planning process. Every alternative in the draft RMP should have included ROV/ provisions that would have allowed the consideration of northern corridor routes.”
The county is concerned that the environmental analysis for Alternative D does not provide an accurate estimate of a single northern corridor route because it analyzes all of the proposed routes collectively rather than individually.
“Consequently, it analyzes the possible disturbance of thousands of acres, where the county’s preferred alternative would only disturb a few hundred acres.”
The protest period for the proposed resource management plans for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs national conservation areas; proposed amendment to the St. George Field Office Resource Management Plan; and abbreviated final environmental impact statement ended Oct. 3.
The full text of the county’s protest can be found here.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.