The desert possesses a special beauty. In these harsh environs, life must fight to persevere, and the desert deserves special protection. In 1995, 4,500 acres in Washington County were set apart as the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. To the north is Pine Mountain and Dixie National Forest. Surrounding the area are the communities of Ivins, Saint George, Washington, and Leeds. The area is amongst the fastest growing in the nation.
The NCA is home to 130 miles of non-motorized trails and is a crucial habitat to many iconic creatures such as the Mojave desert tortoise. A Northern Corridor Highway — an extension of Red Hills Parkway — has been proposed to connect Washington City to Saint George. Currently, I-15 in Washington County is under construction to widen the freeway. County officials claim that the Northern Corridor is also essential to deal with the area’s growth.
The Bureau of Land Management initiated an environmental review as of December 5, 2019, and the public was allowed to submit comments until January 6, 2020.
Historical significance is also a factor in protecting the land. Conserve Southwest Utah has stated that “260 artifact-bearing sites have been discovered in the Red Cliffs area, though only twelve percent has been surveyed.”
Considering that this land is protected under federal law, and is now at risk of development, we must ask: how effective are such laws at their intended purpose of protecting at-risk habitats? Relinquishing protected status is a slippery slope. We have to take a stand, as we are driving towards decimation, not merely of one species, but of nature in general.
Perhaps we have already crossed that line in our hearts and minds. We have lost our sensitivity to such loss. Or even worse, maybe, we, the American people, have forgotten the power of our voices against a government that has forgotten who it is subject to.
As the sun set today, I went to this perfect piece of desert and found the little trail into the red cliffs was blocked and that highway destruction had already begun. I walked back to my car and laughed in disgust at the irony as I remembered the signs, way back there, not so long ago, which reminded us to tread lightly on the protected ground.
Where do we take a stand, and when? Or will we?