ST. GEORGE – As a possible way to offset impacts to the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve that would be created by the proposed northern corridor, county officials have proposed a land swap that would expand the reserve in the wilderness area between Santa Clara and Bloomington.
The land swap, and elements of possible legislation to be recommended to Utah’s congressional delegation to sponsor, is the subject of an open house that will be held at the Dixie Convention Center Wednesday from 5-7 p.m.
The area in question has been found by biologists to have a high-density of desert tortoises, despite the fact is it also heavily used by outdoor enthusiasts – particularly mountain bikers.
Any deal that would allow such a land swap has to keep recreational use of the area intact, Washington County Commissioner Zachery Renstrom said.
“It’s a great place to recreate,” he said, adding it’s also an area that supports a thriving desert tortoise population.
The purpose of the meeting is to get public input from those who may be concerned about a potential land swap while also becoming educated on the details, Renstrom said.
“Come and get the details and give us input,” he said. “We’re really trying to get input before we present anything to Congress.”
Some of the land between Santa Clara and Bloomington that would be impacted by the land swap is currently overseen by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA, Renstrom added, and could be sold for development in the future.
The land swap, which SITLA supports, Renstrom said, would help keep the land open to recreational use.
The Washington County Commission discussed the land swap idea during a Sept. 26 meeting.
During the meeting, Cameron Ragnon, director of Washington County’s Habitat Conservation Plan, reported that surveys of the area found over 400 desert tortoises spread across 30,000-plus acres.
“It appears to be very outstanding habitat for the desert tortoise,” Ragnon said at the time, adding that the population density is about 22.5 tortoises per square kilometer, which is higher than the reserve’s current 15.3 tortoises per square kilometer.
If the land swap is ultimately approved, it would allow for the needed mitigation for creating the northern corridor, a roadway that would cut through the desert reserve to connect Interstate 15 with Red Hills Parkway.
State and county road plans consider the northern corridor to be a crucial part of future transportation infrastructure in Washington County, particularly as it the county continues to grow.
“I look at it as a win-win situation,” Renstrom said of the proposed land exchange.
Conservation and environmental groups are against the proposed roadway due to potentially negative impact it could have on the reserve and the tortoise population.
Comments from advocates of outdoor recreation groups, as well as all interested parties are being sought at the open house. All are encouraged attend to view maps and learn more about the proposed expansion bill.
- What: Open house on the proposed desert tortoise habitat conservation expansion bill.
- When: Wednesday, March 28. 5-7 p.m.
- Where: Entrada Room, Dixie Convention Center, 1835 S. Convention Center Drive, St. George.
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