A powerful Republican senator in Utah, Orrin Hatch, recently introduced a bill (S. 1783) that would literally bulldoze the protected habitat of one of America’s most endangered species.1
If passed, the bill would force the construction of a four-lane highway straight through a federally protected national conservation area in Utah known as the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. That land is home to numerous at-risk plant and wildlife species, including the Mojave Desert Tortoise, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and is at risk of extinction due to habitat loss – the very habitat that would be destroyed by Sen. Hatch’s bill.2
This is an egregious attempt by a politician to overrule the decisions and authority of conservation experts. We have to stop this bill, and all bills like it that let politicians instead of experts make decisions about conservation.
Sen. Hatch’s bill was introduced just as the Bureau of Land Management released its management plan for the conservation area which, according to a report, “recommends no utility or transportation right-of-way be included to accommodate the road because of concerns over the impacts to natural resources.”3 It’s a misguided attempt to overrule this plan and conservation experts.
Red Cliffs Desert Reserve was first created in 1996 to protect the habitat and populations of the desert tortoise and other endangered species. A 2009 law designated it a national conservation area. That deal provided 300,000 acres of land for development in exchange for preserving 44,000 acres of tortoise habitat. Sen. Hatch’s bill, which would strip out the protections from that deal, represents a major betrayal to conservation experts and the public trust.
By circumventing the congressional process and excluding the voices of experts and the public, Hatch’s bill would set a dangerous precedent – undoing crucial conservation work and with the swipe of a pen. We have to fight back now to stop that from happening.
- “Senate Bill S. 1783“
- “Bureau of Land Management: Red Cliffs National Conservation Area“
- David DeMille, “Hatch throws clout behind ‘Northern Corridor” The Spectrum, July 28, 2015.