By Marjorie Haun | Watchdog Arena
The southwestern region of Utah situated just north of Bunkerville, Nevada, where the Bundy Ranch conflict of 2014 took place, is being targeted in the Bureau of Land Management’s new resource management draft which seizes local control of expansive conservation areas.
Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner pointed to language in the new Resource Management Plan (RMP) draft that proposes introducing endangered California Condors into two national conservation areas of the county. According to The Independent, a newspaper out of St. George, Utah, “Language in the draft management plan states that condors already in the county are part of an experimental population and are not subject to the full protection of the Endangered Species Act.”
Gardner told The Independent his “concern is that if condors are introduced into the county’s national conservation areas, they also will be fully protected as is the desert tortoise.”
“Additional restrictions could result due to the fact that condors have a very large home range,” reports The Independent. “The Center for Biological Diversity has already filed lawsuits in Arizona and California over the use of lead bullets within the condor’s range.”
Although still in the draft stage, the new “1,1000 page bombshell” dropped on the BLM-Utah St. George office came as a shock to elected officials of Washington County, who had helped craft the original 2009 agreement voluntarily made with the state and the federal agency.
In an interview with Watchdog Arena, Gardner, who was instrumental in creating the original agreement, said, “We spent five years putting together the plan that was signed into law in 2009, so we were mighty surprised and disappointed when we saw the contradictions in the recent BLM draft management plan.”
The existing agreement, specified in a section of the 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Management Act titled the Washington County Growth and Conservation Act, resulted from a cooperative and voluntary effort to create reasonable protections for desert tortoises and wilderness areas in Washington County. In the cooperative deal, a 62,000 acre desert tortoise conservation habitat was created. The effort which led to policies signed into law in 2009 made state and county officials cooperating partners with the BLM, endowing them with considerable decision-making clout.
Gardner indicated the 2009 agreement created 132,000 miles of roadless areas in southwestern Utah, twice the 64,000 miles originally requested by the BLM. Gardner also said the 2009 plan gave southern Utah leaders the ability to install new power transmission lines if needed, and manage their own water resources in the areas addressed by the agreement.
Even more significantly, as Gardner told Watchdog Arena, the new RMP would hand over surface and subsurface water rights to the BLM, removing control of this most precious resource from local governments and property owners.
Gardner cited new field officers at the St. George BLM office as one possible source of the controversial RMP. “We now have new people there who were not around at the time of the original agreement. I think there’s a lot of pressure coming down from D.C. to go even further.”
In its report, The Independent warns, “the management plan could affect anyone who hikes, bikes, climbs, ranches, or drives in or through Washington County.”
Fellow Commissioner Victor Iverson is quoted as saying, “I’m livid, angry. I think really what we’re dealing with is a complete betrayal by the [BLM] St. George field office—a betrayal of the spirit and letter of the 2009 lands bill, a betrayal of the county’s right to be a cooperating agent, and a betrayal of commonsense and good land management practices.”
The initial public comment period for the Resource Management Plan closes Oct. 15. Keeping in mind that ranching, water rights, grazing, off-road access, recreation and other activities may be further restricted or turned wholesale over to federal management, Gardner emphasized to Watchdog Arena that his county will seek an extension of the comment period if the BLM decides to go forward with the current draft. Despite the anger and worry over the BLM “bombshell,” Gardner conceded, “We’re not ready just yet to file a lawsuit.”
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.