Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) led a letter today with seven other House Committee Democrats to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt questioning the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) effort to rush forward a road-building project through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA) in Southern Utah.
Under DOI’s preferred alternative, the planned four-lane highway, part of the Northern Corridor Project for St. George, Utah, would run through land protected by Congress in 2009. The lawmakers point out in the letter – available at https://bit.ly/3j1VWfQ – that the Red Cliffs NCA was clearly reserved by Congress to conserve, protect, and enhance certain natural and historical resources in the region, none of which are advanced by the road project.
The lawmakers note that the agency plans to finalize their proposal without performing additional analysis of the impact recent fires have had on habitats and vulnerable wildlife populations, including the Mojave Desert Tortoise. This is especially concerning given the findings of a recently uncovered tortoise mortality survey, which finds that recent fires might have “population-level effects” on Mojave Desert Tortoises.
Recognizing the risks of rushing through this project without additional analysis on these compounding impacts of fire and road construction, the lawmakers request that no final record of decision be signed without supplemental information on the impacts to habitats and tortoise populations.
The project may also undermine the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), for which Congress guaranteed $900 million in annual funding in the Great American Outdoors Act despite President Trump’s earlier efforts to eliminate its appropriations. Since 1997, the Bureau of Land Management has spent more than $20 million in LWCF funds to acquire land in the Red Cliffs NCA, including $7 million in 2019 alone. The preferred route and multiple alternative routes for the Northern Corridor Project would cut directly over these acquired parcels.
Lands acquired with LWCF funds are intended to be permanently protected and accessible to the American public for recreation. The Trump administration’s effort near Red Cliffs undermines those protections and directly contradicts the purposes of the program.
As the lawmakers point out, a similar situation is occurring near Mount St. Helens, where the U.S. Forest Service is seeking to allow mining exploration and development on lands protected with LWCF funds.
Chair Grijalva and his colleagues argue that the Northern Corridor Project would set a dangerous precedent for development on lands protected by Congress and for lands protected under LWCF.
“In both instances the law and common sense are clear: lands paid for and protected with public dollars for the purposes of permanent conservation and recreational access are not appropriate places for destructive development,” the lawmakers write.
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