Now is the time for action! Red Cliffs needs your voice.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) kicked off a scoping comment period for the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) that will further examine the effects of the proposed Northern Corridor Highway (please read our recent press release for more background information). The purpose of scoping comments is to guide what the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will look at while preparing the SEIS, so commenters should highlight specific topics they want studied in their public comment.
The most important thing you can do is submit a public comment by December 28th, 2023. There are two ways to do this:
Submitting a comment through Eplanning is the most direct way to comment but requires a bit more work from the commenter. ProtectRedCliffs.com has a comment pre-populated which commenters can (and should) edit to introduce themselves, add topics to, and emphasize what is most important to them.
If you would like to write your own comment to submit though Eplanning, below is a sample comment (the same one as pre-populated on ProtectRedCliffs.com) to help guide your writing process. Please feel free to use the comment below as inspiration for your comment and/or directly incorporate language into your comment. Personalization is strongly encouraged (e.g. writing a personal introduction, emphasizing points, and adding topics that are important to you).
Our goal is over 20,000 public comments from the conservation community which would send a strong message to keep public lands protected. Please encourage members of your community from far and wide to make a public comment!
I am writing to urge the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to select an alternative that prevents the construction of the Northern Corridor Highway through Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA). I support finding an alternative transportation solution that keeps Red Cliffs NCA intact. I firmly believe that Red Cliffs NCA is an unsuitable location for a highway and that the Northern Corridor Highway would compromise the very values that led to the establishment of Red Cliffs NCA. In addition, I respectfully request that BLM comprehensively analyze the following issues as it formulates the Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed Northern Corridor Highway project.
Impact on People: Public Health and Recreation. Red Cliffs NCA is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts providing world-class recreation that attracts over 200,000 visitors annually. The Northern Corridor Highway would impact at least 15 popular trails as well as create noise and light pollution. Furthermore, residents along the boundary of Red Cliffs NCA will be negatively impacted by the increased pollution and scenic degradation of the Northern Corridor Highway. I urge the BLM and FWS to study the scope of the impacts to the recreation community and those living near the proposed Northern Corridor Highway alignment.
Impacts to the Mojave Desert Tortoise. Mojave Desert Tortoise populations continue to decline throughout the region. Of particular significance is the potential harm the proposed Northern Corridor would inflict upon tortoises in the Upper Virgin River Recovery Unit. Of all the Recovery Units, the Upper Virgin River Recovery Unit is the smallest and most fragmented yet still contains sites with high tortoise densities. The proposed highway would cut across high quality habitat further fragmenting this already embattled recovery unit and posing a serious threat to the survival of the tortoise across its range. Given that the Mojave Desert Tortoise is on an extinction trajectory, I ask that BLM and FWS consult with leading Mojave Desert Tortoise experts and as needed conduct additional studies to better understand the specific impacts to the Mojave Desert Tortoise population and habitat integrity under each of the alternatives, both in the Upper Virgin River Recovery Unit and across the species’ range.
Wildfire Impacts and Risk. In the summer of 2020, four wildfires burned nearly 15,000 acres within Red Cliffs NCA, consuming 9,000 acres of desert tortoise critical habitat. It is imperative that BLM and FWS thoroughly examine and disclose the effects of these wildfires on the Mojave Desert Tortoise and other at-risk species. The agencies should also analyze the future risk of wildfire to the Red Cliffs NCA and the habitat and populations of the Mojave Desert Tortoise and other at-risk species under each alternative. There is a considerable body of literature that demonstrates wildfires are more likely proximal to roads. The four wildfires that burned 15,000 acres were all human caused, and at least one was caused by a tire blowout on a road adjacent to Red Cliffs NCA.
Zone 6. In light of the 2020 catastrophic human-caused fires that burned 9,000 acres of tortoise critical habitat, I respectfully request BLM and FWS analyze an alternative that protects Zone 6 as additional habitat conservation for the federally-threatened Mojave desert tortoise. We urge the protection of Zone 6 as additional habitat necessary in maintaining and recovering the tortoise, which is on an extinction trajectory and faces increased fire risk due to climate change, population growth, and surging invasive plants.
Tribal Consultation. The Northern Corridor Highway would impact culturally significant and historic properties in Red Cliffs NCA. I respectfully request that BLM and USFWS take proactive measures to enhance engagement opportunities for Bands and Tribes with cultural ties to this landscape. Specifically, I ask BLM to conduct a comprehensive survey of the Area of Potential Effects for historic properties located within the planning area, including Zone 6. Furthermore, I urge the initiation and funding of cultural studies and analyses led by Tribes, ensuring a thorough understanding of the cultural implications of the highway project.
Alternatives. There are viable alternatives to the Northern Corridor Highway that do not go through Red Cliffs NCA. Notably, the preceding Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) determined that both the Red Hills Expressway and Couplet alternatives not only align with but surpass the transportation objectives of the Northern Corridor Highway. Furthermore, these alternatives were shown to be cost-effective because they modified existing roadways. I urge BLM to conduct additional in-depth analysis of the FEIS alternatives that provide transportation solutions that do not involve bulldozing habitats within the Red Cliffs NCA.
Compatibility of the Highway with NCA Management Direction. The 2009 Omnibus Public Land Management Act established the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area with the purpose “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 of the National Conservation Area.” Additionally, it emphasized the imperative to safeguard every species within the NCA and those designated as threatened or endangered. I strongly urge BLM to analyze the impacts of the proposed highway in this context and evaluate and disclose whether the proposed highway is consistent with BLM’s statutory direction.