House Dems urge Interior to halt highway through Red Cliffs National Conservation Area

16th of Apr 2022

Congress established Utah’s Red Cliffs National Conservation Area in 2009 to protect popular trails, cultural resources, and critical habitat for 20 species of sensitive and threatened wildlife, including Washington County’s iconic and Endangered Species Act-protected Mojave desert tortoise. 

But in the waning days of the Trump administration, then-Secretary David Bernhardt approved a plan to punch the four-lane Northern Corridor Highway through this National Conservation Area, including public lands containing the densest concentration of Mojave desert tortoise in the entire region. Advocates for the West filed a lawsuit in June 2021 on behalf of a coalition of conservation groups challenging the Northern Corridor Highway.

Now, House Democrats are urging Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to reverse approval of the highway and maintain the intended protections for Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

The April 15 letter from nine Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee states that the Northern Corridor Highway violates the explicit intent of multiple environmental laws, conflicts directly with the values of the establishing legislation and management mandates of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, and construction of the highway would negatively impact lands paid for and protected with taxpayer dollars through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“Now we write to you with an Administration that prioritizes conservation goals through the 30×30 Initiative and implore you to reverse the highway’s approval,” the letter states.

Further, the members of Congress note that there has been pronounced public opposition to the Northern Corridor Highway. In 2020, 18 conservation organizations came together to form the Red Cliffs Conservation Coalition.

“Seven of these organizations filed suit in D.C. federal court challenging the NCH in June 2021,” the letter states. “Thus far, 41,808 of their supporters have contacted the Department of the Interior or signed a petition opposing the Northern Corridor Highway.”