Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 22, 2018

Contact: Randi Spivak, (310) 779-4894,

GOP to Consider Four-lane Highway Through Utah Conservation Area, Tortoise Habitat

WASHINGTON— The House Natural Resources Committee will consider a bill today to build a four-lane highway through Utah’s Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, a vital piece of habitat for threatened Mojave desert tortoises.

“It would be beyond heartless to punch a four-lane highway into some of the last remaining habitat of this tortoise,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The bill would set a dangerous precedent and completely renege on Congress’s intention to protect these sensitive, magnificent public lands for everyone. If this happens in Utah, it can happen in any state.”

Congress has designated 34 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land as “national conservation areas,” which are similar to national parks. These areas are regarded as the “crown jewels” of BLM public lands and are protected from development for current and future generations.

H.R. 5597, sponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), would undermine the intent of Congress when it designated the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area in 2009. Stewart’s bill would allow a highway to be built directly through the heart of the conservation area, an unprecedented move that would fragment tortoise habitat. The highway is purportedly to move traffic in and out of the St. George metro area.

In 1996 Washington County and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a habitat conservation plan to help protect the desert tortoise by establishing the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. In 2009 Congress further protected the tortoise when it designated the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, which overlaps with the larger reserve and includes 45,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land. This area contains one of the densest populations of Mojave desert tortoises.

“Stewart has put the desert tortoise directly in harm’s way with this destructive legislation,” said Spivak. “Republicans have been relentless in their attempts to undermine protections for endangered species and industrialize public lands. But they’re completely out of touch with most Americans, who want these places to remain just as they are.”

Since January 2017 Republicans have introduced more than 120 bills that attack public lands, weaken environmental safeguards on those lands or turn over control to states and local governments. These attacks come despite the fact that the vast majority of voters across political parties support protecting and maintaining forests, national parks, monuments and other public lands and waters.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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