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New Conservation Areas in Southern Utah

Former US Senator Bob Bennett, Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner and US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
Dan Bammes
Former US Senator Bob Bennett, Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner and US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar

By Dan Bammes

Ivins, UT – The Secretary of the Interior and the head of the Bureau of Land Management stopped in southern Utah yesterday to dedicate two new National Conservation Areas. They were designated in the Washington County lands bill, which was passed three years ago. Since then, the negotiated county-by-county process for creating new land use designations has stalled, but perhaps not permanently

The Red Cliffs National Conservation Area is just north of St. George, and the Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation area is tucked into the southwestern corner of the state just north of Littlefield, Arizona. Sue Williams was in the crowd of about two hundred people who came to the Tuacahn Amphitheater to celebrate. She says, "I think we're really fortunate that so much of the area is protected. And it should be, because it's very unique. The whole southern, southern Utah is some of the most unique country in the world."

Glen Rogers is a leader of the Shivwits Band of Paiutes, and he's happy to see new protections on land that was very significant to his ancestors.

"We just roamed this whole area," says Rogers. "There's numerous artifacts and there's numerous things, even the plants, we've used all the plants for shoes or for medicinal purposes, the plants that we also use. So yeah, this whole area is filled with a lot of our culture and our beliefs."

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined the celebration, proclaiming, "Isn't this an awesome place?" He talked about the process that led to the designation of the two new conservation areas. There hasn't been a bill proposed to create new federal land use designations since the Washington County bill in 2009. But Salazar thinks the process is still alive, in spite of the partisan roadblock in the other Washington - DC.

"Indeed it is," Salazar insists. "It is very much a template for conservation, which President Obama and I have been pushing for the past 3-1/2 years. We believe the best conservation outcomes are the ones where you have support from the local community in the way that we do here in southern Utah."

But for some of the interested parties, the process isn't finished. There are still isolated blocks of state and private land within the two new N-C-A's, and Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner made that point when he handed B-L-M director Bob Abbey a letter asking the agency to work harder on trading those lands for other parcels in areas that can be developed.

Abbey says it's a complicated problem because the law says land exchanges have to be equal in value, not just in acreage. "It's a matter of us focusing our attention on putting together kind of a task force made up of, not only just Bureau of Land Management employees, but also from the counties and the state to see if we could identify those appropriate public lands that could be offered up in an exchange."

Senator Bob Bennett's willingness to compromise on public lands issues was among the reasons he was defeated in 2010. His replacement, Mike Lee, says he'll oppose any locally-negotiated lands bill that hasn't been approved by Utah's legislature. But Bennett is still working with communities in Utah that hope they can also accomplish what's been done in Washington County. He expressed his hope for bipartisanship as he addressed the crowd at Tuacahn.

"A Republican bill passed in a Democratic Congress and was signed by a Democratic president. That's not supposed to happen," Bennett said. But he added, "On the other hand, yes it is supposed to happen."

BLM St. George Field Office page with information on the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Areas.

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