The Northern Corridor and the Environmental Left

desert-tortoise

Increasing The Red Cliffs National Conservation Area Desert Tortoise Habitat by 6,865 Acres

Washington County LandscapeRep. Chris Stewart has introduced legislation that would expand the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area desert tortoise habitat by 6,865 acres. Mike Lee has jumped on board with a similar bill in the Senate.

Stewart’s proposed expansion is a natural addition to the NCA. Tortoises are thriving there today in large numbers despite the presence of off-highway vehicles and without any protection from the Habitat Conservation Plan.

But take-no-prisoners environmentalists are opposed because the bills would use 145 acres in the current NCA for a proposed northern corridor parkway connecting Snow Canyon Parkway to Interstate 15 Exit 13.

Adding almost 7,000 acres while subtracting 145 is not good enough for environmental extremists

If ever there was a chance to quantify the unbalanced worldview of the environmental left, this is it. Adding almost 7,000 acres while subtracting 145 is not good enough for environmental extremists.

What are the stated objections by the Environmentalists?

Possible harm can’t be proved or refuted, only “feared,” so it’s a safe one to advocate

Desert Tortoise 2They fear a new roadway will have an adverse effect on the desert tortoise. Possible harm can’t be proved or refuted, only “feared,” so it’s a safe one to advocate. It smacks of similar, unfounded fears that Arctic caribou would be negatively impacted by the Alaska pipeline. For 40 years, caribou have ignored the pipeline, walking and grazing undisturbed as if it wasn’t there.

Northern corridor opponents claim that Stewart’s bill “violates” established federal policy, setting a “bad” precedent. It would “toss aside” prior commitments via “congressional fiat.” Local officials are trying to “ram through” a wish list.

Notice the inflammatory, doom-and-gloom words: violates, bad, toss aside, congressional fiat and ram through.

Environmentalists need to deal with it. Congress establishes the law of the land. Congress can change the law of the land.  Expect a lawsuit “protecting” the desert tortoise from the predations of local Washington County elected officials

That’s usually not satisfactory for litigious environmentalists. When their demands are not met, they head to the courts, not to Congress. Expect a lawsuit “protecting” the desert tortoise from the predations of local Washington County elected officials.

Speaking of those local officials, they are unanimous in doing their best to protect the rights of another endangered species: local citizens who thought they had a deal for a northern corridor. The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 included several provisions pertaining to the Red Cliffs NCA added by then-Sen. Bob Bennett.

The BLM is now working cooperatively with local officials who in turn have taken a less adversarial approach

No deal said the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM read Bennett’s provisions as giving it total discretion on a northern corridor. To everyone’s credit, the BLM is now working cooperatively with local officials who in turn have taken a less adversarial approach.

Stewart’s and Lee’s bills would remove any remaining obstacles.

A northern corridor is proposed by the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization and endorsed by the Washington County Commission, the St. George and Washington city councils as well as the state of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

Washington County is the fastest-growing metropolitan area of its size in the country. I’ve been impressed that local officials working with the Utah Department of Transportation have been able to keep up with that growth for the most part.

A northern corridor is an important part of their plan to prevent gridlock in the years to come. It would keep increasing numbers of Ivins, Santa Clara and northwest St. George residents away from the area’s two most congested freeway interchanges at Interstate 15 Exit 8 and Exit 10.

MPO planners have sought input from HCP biologists. The resulting recommendations have been included in roadway plans, including tortoise tunnels under the road.

Is a northern corridor a backdoor way to turn tortoise habitat into a sprawling suburb? No way. Stewart’s legislation extends the currently-expired HCP for another 25 years. For the last 20 years, there’s been no move to convert NCA land along the existing Red Hills Parkway to private use. A northern corridor would receive the same protection.

Citizens living in the St. George metropolitan area are lucky to have the Red Cliffs NCA immediately adjacent to our community. Most of us have driven or hiked through the area and appreciate the spectacular scenery that we too easily take for granted. Even though we know better, it’s easy to imagine ourselves a hundred miles from nowhere.

The NCA is worth defending even if there were no desert tortoises.

But taking that sentiment to the extreme, local environmentalists would likely object to re-purposing a single square foot of the NCA. Like those opposed to reducing the size of the Escalante-Grand Staircase and Bears Ears national monuments, they see the slightest alteration as a slippery slope to oblivion.

Let’s get real. All of us are environmentalists to some degree. No one wants to breathe dirty air, drink polluted water or damage Utah’s spectacular scenery and wildlife. The trick is finding a balance between realistic human needs and environmental preservation.

Uncompromising environmentalists see humans as a cancer on the earth. If you’re not feeling like a cancer these days, join me in supporting the reasonable northern corridor compromise envisioned in Stewart’s legislation.

Howard Sierer is a an opinion columnist for St. George News

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