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Mueller to testify in open session; migrant children returned to troubled detention center; plus ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and seeking justice for Native Americans killed at Wounded Knee.

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Land Bill Threatens Tortoise Habitat, Environmental Groups Say

Habitat loss is thought to be one of the biggest factors behind declining desert tortoise populations. (BLM/Flickr)
Habitat loss is thought to be one of the biggest factors behind declining desert tortoise populations. (BLM/Flickr)
May 29, 2018

ST. GEORGE, Utah – Congressman Chris Stewart, R-Utah, has introduced a bill to allow for a new road to be built to accommodate growth near St. George. But environmental groups are concerned the road would encroach on protected habitat for a threatened species.

Populations of Mojave desert tortoises have steadily declined over the last century.

Randi Spivak, the public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, says introducing construction and traffic to the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area could further threaten the species.

"With freeways come roadkill," she says. "With roadkill come predators. Those predators also prey on tortoises."

Stewart's plan includes new designation of about 6,000 acres of land for tortoise protection, but Spivak says the land in question already has some protections. She adds that building a road through the conservation area would further fragment the species' small habitat.

The Red Cliffs area has been set aside as tortoise habitat since 1996 and was designated a National Conservation Area by Congress in 2009. Spivak says allowing Stewart's bill to move forward would mean Congress going back on its prior commitment.

"It's not acceptable that to address a local traffic issue that Washington County and Utah members of Congress seek to overturn a federally protected area of public land," she stresses.

Red Cliffs includes more than 44,000 acres of public lands. The proposed road would run through the southern tip of the conservation Area.

Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service - UT