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KUER’s Southeast Utah Bureau is based in San Juan County. The Southwest Utah Bureau is based in the St. George area. Both initiatives focus on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues, faith and spirituality and other topics of relevance to Utahns.

Conservations Ask Agencies To Delay Northern Corridor Environmental Review Due To Nearby Wildfires

Photo of desert terrain on a sunny day
Lexi Peery
/
KUER
A view of the scorched hills in Red Cliffs Desert Reserve near Green Springs in Washington County.

Fifteen conservation groups from Utah, Idaho, Colorado, California and Nevada have sent a letter to federal agencies asking them to pause the environmental review for the proposed Northern Corridor.

The four-lane highway would potentially cut through protected Mojave Desert tortoise habitat in Washington County that has had two large wildfires this month. 

The Turkey Farm Road and Cottonwood Trail fires have burned nearly 14,000 acres since they were started by people in mid-July. The Cottonwood Trail Fire is still burning but is 90% contained. 

But Conserve Southwest Utah President Tom Butine said the full impact of the fires is far from known. 

In a press conference Tuesday about the letter, Butine said the review should be based on the best and most current science available.

“The environmental assessment can’t legally or practically proceed without a reassessment of these conditions and the impacts,” he said. “Pressing forward in the face of these fires would be a waste of taxpayer money and of the public’s effort to review the now inadequate environmental impact statement.”

Shortly after the letter was sent, the Bureau of Land Management held a virtual public meeting about the proposed highway. Several people in attendance asked if the latest fires will be included in the final environmental impact statement. 

BLM St. George Field Manager Keith Rigtrup is leading the review for the highway and said the draft document already includes information about other wildfires that have already happened in the reserve. 

“We’re moving forward with the information we have, so new surveys wouldn’t be required,” Rigtrup said.

The draft environmental impact statement is currently open for public review until Sept. 10, and a final document is expected this fall.

Lexi Peery is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow Lexi on Twitter @LexiFP

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