On March 23, Conserve Southwest Utah, the Conservation Lands Foundation, and The Wilderness Society filed a motion to intervene in Washington County’s appeal in the Interior Board of Land Appeals of the Final Resource Management Plans for the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Areas.
On Feb. 23, Washington County filed an appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals contesting the Final Resource Management Plans for the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Areas. At the heart of the appeal is Washington County’s claim that the Bureau of Land Management failed to consider and approve the construction of a highway or northern corridor through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Areas. Intervention status will give the three conservation organizations options in the case of an unfavorable settlement or ruling.
“The Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash [National Conservation Areas] are extraordinary landscapes, sustaining not only the native habitat but also the recreation and tourism critical to our local economy and the signature vistas of our county’s visual appeal,” stated Tom Butine, board president of Conserve Southwest Utah, a local citizen-based conservation nonprofit organization headquartered in St. George. “[Conserve Southwest Utah] and our members have invested heavily over the past 11 years to establish these protected lands and care deeply about their value to those who live and visit here. We hope to continue the dialog with our county commission to understand and resolve the issues.”
The Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Areas were established by legislation in 2009 after years of collaboration and input from the public and other stakeholders. The Red Cliffs National Conservation Area was designated in large part to protect habitat for the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise while allowing development in other areas of Washington County. This compromise was agreed to and signed by officials in Washington County as part of a Habitat Conservation Plan in 1996.
“The plan was the product of years of hard work and public input,” said Phil Hanceford, assistant director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “It is a shame to see government throwing away resources on legal action and going back on commitments made during negotiations around the designation of the National Conservation Areas.”
“Logically, the construction of a highway through a National Conservation Area designated by Congress to protect desert tortoise habitat does not make sense,” stated Danielle Murray, senior director at the Conservation Lands Foundation. “The [Final Resource Management Plan] gets it right. It reflects the overarching intent of Congress and six years of input from stakeholders. We intervened to ensure all this hard work that led to a sensible plan is not undermined.”
When they were designated, the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Areas became part of the National Conservation Lands, a collection of places around the West recognized for their scenic, ecological, historic, or cultural significance. They were protected to “conserve, protect, and enhance for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generation the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreation, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources of the NCA; and to protect listed threatened or endangered species.”
Conserve Southwest Utah is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit grassroots coalition of local citizens advocating conservation the area’s natural resources (public lands, water, and air) and cultural resources (the remnants of native and pioneer activity) and for the Smart Growth principles that enable conservation, for the benefit of present and future generations.
The Conservation Lands Foundation is the only organization dedicated solely to protecting, restoring, and expanding the National Conservation Lands so they will endure from generation to generation. The National Conservation Lands are 36 million acres of protected public lands, rivers, and trails managed by the BLM that have joined the ranks of national parks and wildlife refuges as guardians of the nation’s natural, cultural, and outdoor heritage and drivers of its $646 billion outdoor recreation economy.