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The Southwest Utah Bureau is based in the St. George area, and the reporting focuses on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues, faith and spirituality and other topics of relevance to Utahns.

‘The Good The Bad & The Slow’ tells the story of tortoises in Washington County

Good Bad Slow Tortoise Movie Stills-1
Courtesy of Hans Glasmann
The Mojave Desert tortoise is a threatened species native to the U.S. southwest.

Over the past four years, Washington County resident Hans Glasmann has documented the Mojave Desert tortoise. In his new documentary “The Good The Bad & The Slow,” he hopes that people will learn more about their own backyard, and maybe be inspired to protect it.

“People like to bring the tortoise up because it drives a wedge in conversation — you're either for the tortoise or against it,” he said. “I'm trying to show that, no, it's not about that. It's about this land [being] for all of us. It protects all of us, and it should be important to all of us.”

Glasmann’s film premiered Friday night at St. George’s Electric Theater. The event was put on by Conserve Southwest Utah, a local environmental group that is working to protect tortoise habitat.

The film follows Washington County’s efforts to put a four-lane highway through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. It’s 62,000 acres north of St. George that was first set aside in 1995 to protect the threatened tortoises’ habitat.

In turn, the Habitat Conservation Plan opened up land for development. The land has also become a popular place for recreation.

The Northern Corridor is needed to alleviate traffic in the fast-growing area, according to supporters of the project. It got final approval from federal agencies in January 2021, but Conserve Southwest Utah and other environmental groups are suing them over the decision.

Good Bad Slow Tortoise Movie Stills-2
Courtesy of Hans Glasmann
Hans Glasmann recently released “The Good, The Bad, and The Slow.” In it, he talks about popular recreation activities in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, including camping.

Glasmann said he wanted to make the tortoise a “cowboy type” in the documentary, as an ode to old American western movies. Instead of it being man versus the elements, he wanted to show the importance of the animal.

“The only reason we have the wildland we do is because of [the tortoise],” Glasmann said. “This area was being developed like crazy, and then suddenly we can't develop it as quickly or as well because we have this tortoise that we have to worry about.”

Footage of wildfires in the reserve and a burned tortoise carcass were shown throughout the film. Two large fires tore through Red Cliffs in 2020, one was started by teenagers setting off fireworks and the other because of a blown tire on I-15. In total, over 13,600 acres burned.

Conservationists argue in their lawsuit, federal agencies didn’t adequately address the impacts these fires had before approving the Northern Corridor.

Alexander Francisco Valencia said he attended the documentary screening on a whim. The 29-year-old Washington City resident said he came into it with strong values to preserve nature and the local landscape, but the film drove it home for him.

“I come from a belief that to create [something] new, you have to destroy what's originally there,” he said. “Taking the opportunity of the wildfires is probably one of the more paramount things to be able to help restore the habitat that not only [is for] the tortoise, but the rest of the southwest ecology.”

Valencia said it was “heartwarming” to see people come together for the premiere of the documentary and has encouraged him to defend the Red Cliffs area.

Glasmann said he’s working to get the film released for wider viewing and he’s also breaking it down into smaller chunks to more easily share the information.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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