Endangered desert tortoise threatened by proposed northern corridor in southern Utah

The endangered Mojave Desert Tortoise in Washington County may stand in the way of potential expansion. (Photo: DJ Bolerjack / KUTV)

(KUTV) -- The endangered Mojave Desert Tortoise in Washington County may stand in the way of potential expansion.

Right now conservation groups are rooting against a proposed “Northern Corridor” road project, discussed by Washington County commissioners, that would connect the Ivins, Santa Clara communities with Interstate 15.

“In about 10 to 15 years St. George Boulevard, Bluff Street, all those areas will just become gridlocked unless we give another access for people to use,” said Washington County Commissioner Zachary Renstrom told 2News on Monday.

“Their concern is that if we allow this there will just be more and more and more roads.”

Tom Butine, a member of Conserve Southwest Utah, is one of the many advocating for the proposed project to fail. Butine said this corridor would destroy the land it sits on and put the endangered Mojave Desert Tortoises in danger.

“It's all just a question of do we want to have protected habitat. Do we want to drive the local economy?” Butine asked. “If this tortoise goes away.... then the other species that are involved in this environment will go away too.”

Commissioner Renstrom said they are just in the discussion stage with this road project. They have been working with biologists and trying to understand the environment the proposed road would be built on.

"They came with several suggestions and we've incorporated all their suggestions," Renstrom said. One idea that biologists brought up was to create small pathways under the road for the tortoises to cross under so they could still move freely, safely.

"So they can cross that road by going safely by going underneath it by going through some culverts," Renstrom said.

Right now, there is no solid plan to actually build this corridor.

County commissioners said it's going to take environmental testing and approval from Congress in Washington D.C. to get things rolling.

Renstrom mentioned it could be nearly a decade before construction starts on this project if it's approved.

"We think what's being proposed right now is a good win, win situation," Renstrom said.

As for Butine and his colleagues at Conserve Southwest Utah they are trying to spread the word and try and convince commissioners to change their minds.

"The only life form that matters here is the human life form? We're going to do what we want with the environment...then that's the message we would be sending with putting this highway in," Butine said.

If you want to hear more from conservationists and commissioners on this northern corridor project watch the news story above.

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