Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)

Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)

In 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Mojave Desert tortoise as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This would have impeded development on private and state lands in the county. In 1995, local officials signed an agreement to establish a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to protect habitat of the tortoise. In trade 300,000 acres of private and state land were released for development. HCPs are developed to reduce the regulatory burden on private and state landowners while addressing the habitat needs of listed species. The HCP gave economic certainty to be able to develop lands outside the reserve. Washington County and this reserve, have some of the highest density of endangered, threatened and special status species in Utah. A highway was debated in the HCP process but was never part of the agreement of the HCP. The only road improvement mentioned in the HCP was to improve the Red Hills Parkway, which was done.

In 2009, the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA) was established by U.S. Congress (Public Law 111-11), adding  a layer of permanent protection to this tortoise habitat. In 2016, the BLM as the managing agency for the NCA, released the Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the NCA which further studied and rejected a highway through the NCA. BLM is following laws set up by Congress to protect this habitat.

However, local officials today want to go back on their pledge to protect this reserve and build a highway through it. They have encouraged our local and federal elected officials to undermine federal laws to allow a highway by proposing new legislation in congress.

Senator Orrin Hatch introduced a bill in the senate May 2017, directing BLM to scrap its excellent RMP that took 4  years of study and many opportunities for public comment. This is because the RMP does not allow a four lane highway to plow through the reserve. This bill died due to a new session of Congress.

Representative, Chris Stewart’s bill H.R. 2423  was introduced May 2017 and it is called the Washington County, Utah, Public Lands Management Implementation Act. To implement certain measures relating to management of Washington County, Utah required by Public Law 111-11. But, the claim the highway was in the Public law 111-11 is untrue and the title of bill is very deceptive. It was not in the 2009 bill and in fact was deleted from the bill by Utah’s Senator Bennett in 2008. It is unfortunate that the public is being told otherwise. Stewart’s bill passed a house committee, but never went to floor vote of the full house and it never allowed public comment before it was introduced. This bill died due to new session of Congress.

The County Commission needs to renew the HCP because there are still private and state lands that need to be developed in county.  But, they also want to amend the HCP renewal with an ADMENDMENT to allow a highway in legislative protected prime habitat in Zone 3 in exchange to unprotected less desirable habitat in Zone 6 that also has a proposed highway in it.(map). This concept is the basis for the new bill, Desert Tortoise Habitat Conservation Expansion Act. The county commissioners want all the cities to pass a RESOLUTION to support the bill. But legislative language of the bill has not been disclosed to the public and they tell us the bill’s text will be disclosed after it is introduced into congress.

There is already a highway, the Red Hills Parkway, that goes across the NCA. There are alternatives for a highway that would by-pass the NCA that have not been considered. The model used to determine the need for this highway has not been opened to public scrutiny. Here is more information on HCP and renewal:

Washington Parkway (Highway)