Stewart’s Damaging Highway Bill
On April 24, 2018, Rep Chris Stewart introduced a bill 5597 into the House of Representatives. The Washington County Desert Tortoise Habitat Conservation Plan Expansion Bill.
It would mandate an unnecessary and damaging highway through a protected wildlife preserve in violation of the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and the Endangered Species Act. It would destroy the purpose of the HCP to recover the desert tortoise.
Here is some background information on this flawed highway bill:
· In 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the tortoise as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This could have slowed development on private and state land in the county.
· In 1995, local officials signed an agreement to establish a county-wide Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to permanently protect the tortoise habitat on 61,022 acres in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve (Reserve) that includes some private, state and BLM land. In trade 300,000 acres of private and state land outside of reserve were released for development. This allowed development on lands outside the HCP to continue. HCPs are developed to reduce the regulatory burden on private landowners while addressing the habitat needs of listed species. The Reserve was not only for the tortoise. Washington County has some of highest density of Endangered, Threatened and Special Status Species with 40 more candidate species that could be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Reserve has provided economic stability by allowing development outside the reserve to go ahead in the county for over 20 years.
· The Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA) was established by U.S. Congress in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act in 2009 (Public Law111-11) to permanently protect this tortoise Reserve in St. George, Utah.
· $60-100 million dollars of federal funds have been spent over 20 years on trading and buying land inside the Reserve to acquire desert tortoise habitat. Private land owners inside the reserve benefited greatly from the trade because they received much more land they had inside the Reserve.
· However, local officials want to go back on their HCP pledge to permanently protect the Reserve and build a highway through the wildlife Reserve.
· The bill, if passed, would overturn portions of BLM’s Resource Management Plans for the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Areas, bypass the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and NEPA’s public process, ignores the existing Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for management of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, and subvert the authority of USFWS to enforce the Endangered Species Act to protect the threatened Mojave Desert Tortoise that is required by law.
· The Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA) was set aside by Congress to protect tortoise habitat is no place for a new highway.
· This proposed highway was already turned down by the courts.
There was never a promise made for a highway inside the Reserve. BLM, US Fish & Wildlife and biologists have turned the highway down time and time again over 20 years. This is why they need new legislation.
· This bill renews an HCP that would violate the Endangered Species Act by allowing a highway through prime habitat
· There is already a highway that goes through the Reserve from east to west called the Red Hills Parkway. The Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization (DMPO) that plans highways should make a good-faith effort to study alternative routes and/or ways of meeting the transportation needs the Northern Corridor highway is intended to resolve by running Travel Demand models that avoid a route through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve that violates the Public Law 111-11.Proper zoning around choke points could be a solution.
· The County wants to build a highway through the reserve and then protect other property on the west side of county called Zone 6. But it also has a proposed highway through it and is not legislatively NCA protected habitat or prime habitat. Zone 6 is not prime habitat and should be opposed as a trade for highway in prime habitat in Reserve.
· The highway isn’t needed, that sensible alternatives exist, and that the science says this sensitive habitat will be irreparably damaged by impacts from a highway due to fragmentation, more fire, fencing, traffic, noise, trash and pollution.
· This bill violates of Federal environmental laws, the HCP, the ESA and NCA designation.
· This bill does an end run around all these laws that now protect the NCA.
Read about HCP information.
Testimony Paper HR 5597 FINAL, May 22, 2018