The care and conservation of local public lands have long been front-and-center for CSU and 2021 was no different. In July CSU welcomed a new Public Lands Program Director, Isabel Adler. Isabel’s enthusiasm and experience have already strengthened our programming and brought a fresh perspective to lingering challenges. We’re excited to see how CSU’s public lands program will evolve under her leadership.

This year the most important challenge has been preventing the construction of the Northern Corridor Highway (NCH) through Red Cliffs National Conservation Area in St. George. In January 2021, the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior issued a record of decision approving the highway through this protected national conservation area (NCA). This decision sets an untenable precedent putting not just Red Cliffs, but ALL federally protected lands at risk for development. The decision flouts federal laws, violates the public trust, and ignores more effective transportation solutions that do not damage the NCA.

Many of you have actively supported our grassroots efforts to #saveRedCliffs from unneeded and illegal development. Until this most recent decision, we’ve collectively succeeded in holding local and federal officials accountable to the Congressionally mandated purpose to protect ALL NCAs, including (not limited to) Red Cliffs NCA. Our combined advocacy continues to matter.

In June, CSU and six allied groups joined as co-plaintiffs and filed a lawsuit to reverse the NCH approval. As the lawsuit moves forward, so does our activism. CSU and our organizational partners on the 16-member Red Cliffs Coalition (including our co-plaintiffs) have mobilized a nationwide campaign to keep Red Cliffs roadless which will, by extension, help ensure that ALL protected lands will indeed remain protected. Our coalition members continue to encourage members of Congress and the Biden administration to keep their commitments to protect conservation lands and take whatever action is necessary to reverse the NCH approval. We will keep you posted along the way so please watch for our bulletins and be ready to take action to help us ensure that critical lands remain permanently protected for the enjoyment of present and future generations.

Unfortunately, some area municipalities and our local Bureau of Land Management field office have similarly disregarded or violated public lands protections.

Late last year, the BLM approved Washington City’s application for the Long Valley Road Extension through an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. As is the case with the NCH, better alternatives that do NOT violate protected lands were thoughtlessly dismissed in the process. CSU submitted comments during the environmental review process and appealed the decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, where it awaits the opportunity to be heard.

Another ongoing threat to protected public lands is Ivins City’s request for land within the Santa Clara River Reserve (SCRR) to be used for public facilities, including a cemetery. The SCRR is a sensitive area encompassing hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, prehistoric rock art, scenic desert landscapes, and a rich riparian corridor. The uses proposed by Ivins City are incompatible with BLM purposes. In our view, the request itself is a sign of inadequate growth planning by the city and does not warrant the destruction of public lands enjoyed by so many. CSU submitted comments on the proposal and now await the final determinations of the Environmental Assessment. If the city’s request is granted, we will consider further action at that time.

In each of these actions we see a major disconnect between constituent desires to “keep protected lands protected” and poorly managed sprawling growth. CSU will continue to call upon our representatives and seek new opportunities to cultivate conversations with decision makers and the public. We will remain on the front lines against the NCH and continue to advocate for conservation and stewardship of our area’s natural and cultural resources. There is still much to be done!