A desert tortoise browses in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Washington County, Utah, date not specified. A propose Northern Corridor would cut through the species’ federally protected reserve. | Photo by John Kellam/Bureau of Land Management, St. George News
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR — With the public comment period for the Northern Corridor environmental impact statement fast approaching, St. George News has received many letters offering thoughts on the proposed highway. Included in this article are five opinion pieces on the subject offering varying viewpoints on the matter ahead of Thursday’s public comment deadline.
Northern Corridor deception
On May 30, 2019, I awoke to a mixture of sunrise and thunderheads in the eco-similar community of “The Cliffs” in northern St. George, excited by the prospect of spending the day in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and Zone 6 lands, as described below. As a Council member of the Desert Tortoise Council, I’ve written several comment letters on the Northern Corridor, had one article published in the Spectrum, and traveled to Washington D.C. in September 2018 to meet with five Congressmen and three Senators (mostly with their staffs) to talk about the science of constructing a freeway through a tortoise Reserve, namely the “Red Cliffs Desert Reserve,” which portends the detriment of tortoises within that Reserve.
Herein, I’m still speaking as a 30-year veteran of walking the desert looking for tortoises (witnessing the detrimental aftermath of road development) and a 60-year old man offended by a deception, but I’m NOT representing the Desert Tortoise Council and am talking more about social issues than science. I coin the phrase “eco-similar” above in reference to the myriad communities within St. George particularly along its borders where from a distance, single-story homes often resemble rocks and cliffs. That morning, through my adobe window, I saw house finches and hummingbirds flitting about the bright green xeriscaping juxtaposed to the cliff-colored home of my host.
I’d last been in St. George in 1992 as an Eagle Scout and then-Assistant Scout Master with a Latter Day Saints church in Wrightwood, California. At that time, I had left my daughter with an LDS family I was meeting for the first time, trusting strangers with our precious cargo, so we could lead a dozen young Scouts through nearby Zion Narrows. Given the passage of 28 years and the immensity of development in the interim, the city has become almost unrecognizable except for iconic features such as the centrally-located Tabernacle and the naturally iconic red cliffs to the north.
I was invited to attend the May 30th trip as an expert on desert tortoises and author of four of the first ten Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) for the species in California, including the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th HCPs that resulted in 10(a)(1)(B) incidental take permits. As such, I understand the intricacies of the Washington County HCP and subsequent incidental take of tortoises throughout the county. I was also the primary BLM biologist formulating the tortoise conservation strategy for the West Mojave Plan in California from 1998 to 2004. So, I understand the formula comprised of consensus building, public trust, and the fragile balance of immediate development in exchange for promised conservation. And, I understand the current intent and threat to manipulate the formula to develop the Northern Corridor through the Reserve by premeditating mitigation for a violation that has yet to occur but is being rigorously planned for as I write this.
If you are living in a house built since 1996, you are living there as a result of an agreement among numerous agencies and entities that has already resulted in the development of thousands of acres of tortoise critical habitat and many thousands of acres of both incorporated and unincorporated lands within Washington County in exchange for protecting, through a conservation agreement, the 60,000-plus-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. This development is irreversible, but the commitment to conservation is now being threatened by planners and politicians (herein “them” and “they”) who were not part of the consensus-building process that resulted in the formula of “development now in exchange for conservation later.” What the Draft EIS unfortunately calls “A deal is a deal” (for humans, yes, but not the tortoise!).
The Draft EIS…