In 1990, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Mojave desert tortoise as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This would have impeded development on private and state lands in Washington County due to the county being tortoise habitat. In 1996, local elected representatives signed an agreement to establish a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to protect tortoise habitat as mitigation for releasing 300,000 acres of private and state lands for development. This was a great benefit to the county. For over 20 years the HCP has reduced the regulatory burden on land owners and provided economic certainty to be able to develop lands outside the HCP. Currently the HCP is home to the densest population of threatened tortoise anywhere on earth.  A highway was debated in the HCP process, but was never part of the HCP agreement. This HCP has to be renewed because there is still land that needs to be developed and needs ESA protection from an HCP. The HCP area is called the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.

The Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA) was designated by congress in 2009. The congressional-defined purpose of an NCA is: to conserve, protect and enhance for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources and to protect each species that is listed as threatened or endangered. The HCP area was included in the NCA.

However, Washington County wants to undermine this NCA designation and put an unnecessary highway through the NCA/Reserve area. The county is proposing to trade an area across town called Zone 6 that has marginal tortoise habitat for a damaging highway through the best habitat of the tortoise in the NCA.

Because a highway is not allowed in the NCA or the HCP under existing environmental laws and agreements the county has to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to amend the BLM’s Resource Management Plan for the NCA that protects the NCA’s values, the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that has to be renewed. These agreements were supposed to permanently protect the tortoise habitat and other wildlife and plants in a wildlife reserve. As part of the preparation to allow for a highway inside the NCA through the wildlife reserve, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that there be an early and open process for determining the scope of the issues to be addressed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). This process is commonly known as “scoping,” during which an agency will solicit your input. This scoping process began December 5, 2019 .

In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, as amended, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), as amended, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), as co-lead agencies, intend to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to consider a right-of- way application submitted by the Utah Department of Transportation  for a Northern Corridor Highway, potential amendments to the BLM’s Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA) Resource Management Plans (RMPs), and the issuance of an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) to Washington County, Utah, under Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act.

Your comments will impact three public land management plans. They include: READ MORE.