Commissioners Message & FAQ

Dear Washington County Residents,

Thank you to all of you who participated in the open house on March 28th. It was great to be able to talk to so many of you about the plans we have been working on to expand and renew the Desert Tortoise Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). We have reviewed your written comments to see what we need to adjust.

We would like to quickly address some of the more common questions that came up at the open house for those who were unable to attend.

  • Will Zone 6 cut off recreation access?
    No, Zone 6 will not cut off recreation access. In fact, zone 6 will be managed for recreation along with preserving sensitive species. Creating Zone 6 is the best way to ensure that recreation access is not lost in that area.
  • Why would the County expand the HCP?
    Expanding the HCP makes sense for several reasons.
    • The largest negative impact on the tortoises in the Reserve was the result of a wildfire. Having a zone that is not connected to the rest of the reserve helps ensure that one event won’t affect all of the Reserve.
    • Recent studies have shown that the tortoise density in the Zone 6 area is higher than anyone previously thought. High tortoise densities make this area ideal for tortoise protection.
    • SITLA owns much of what would become Zone 6. Without Zone 6, that land will be developed. Development of the SILTA land would end some recreation and cut off access to other trails.
    • In order to build the northern corridor, the County has to be able to mitigate for any negative impacts within the Reserve. Zone 6 provides the necessary mitigation.
    • Washington County takes seriously the responsibility to recovery the desert tortoise.
  • Why is the County pursuing legislation?
    The county is still actively pursuing administrative solutions with BLM and USFWS at the same time as this legislation. This bill is just one of the tools the county is using to ensure that the HCP continues to benefit the desert tortoise, that county residents have utility access, and that the northern corridor can be built to keep traffic flowing.
  • Is this bill a land swap?
    No, the bill is not a land swap. An inaccurate story has been circulating that Zone 6 is a land swap so that land in the current HCP can be developed. No land is being swapped. Zone 6 is an addition to the Reserve. No land in the Reserve is being developed. No title is changing hands.
  • Why is the HCP renewal tied to the Northern corridor?
    Originally the County planned on renewing the HCP agreement and then working separately on the northern corridor. The HCP agreement expired in 2016, and the County has been working closely with BLM and USFWS since 2015 on the necessary steps to renew our agreement. As part of these discussions, the federal agencies suggested that it would be more effective to deal with the northern corridor at the same time as the renewal. It makes more sense to deal with all of the issues at once rather than dividing our attention.

Below we are providing transportation information that has guided the County’s position on the need for a northern transportation route, the maps that were used in the open house, and a summary of the contents of the draft legislation. The purpose of providing this information is to give all of you a chance to understand what we are doing to maintain the lifestyle that we all enjoy here in Washington County.

Washington County Commissioners
Dean Cox
Zachary Renstrom
Victor Iverson
circa 2018

Desert Tortoise Habitat Conservation Plan

The original Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) agreement expired in 2016. By agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington County is operating the HCP under a temporary extension that is valid as long as we are actively working toward renewal. Over a year ago Washington County, federal agencies and other stakeholders began discussions on a long-term extension. This bill is the result of the many meetings to finalize renewal of the HCP agreement.

The bill, if passed into law would:

  • Expand the HCP by creating an additional 6,865-acre reserve with rich desert
    tortoise habitat known as Zone 6.
  • Renew the HCP agreement for 25 years,
  • Require Washington County and the BLM to manage Zone 6 in accordance with
    the provisions of the existing HCP agreement,
  • Apply the existing utility development protocols to include Zone 6 as well as
    other areas covered by the HCP,
  • Allow for recreation to continue in Zone 6 on designated trails, including hiking,
    biking, horseback riding, and OHV use,
  • Provide mitigation credits for the tortoises protected in Zone 6, and
  • Require BLM to amend the existing plans to accommodate Zone 6.


The current Record of Decision (ROD) for the Red Cliffs NCA requires some language changes to clear up management issues that are inconsistent with this new bill including restoring access to groundwater rights through the utility development protocols. Additionally, the current ROD has provisions that are inconsistent with the designation of the northern utility and transportation corridor route, as required by the 2009 Lands Bill. During the discussions on this bill, the County has worked with federal and state tortoise biologists and transportation engineers to develop new, optimal alignment for a route that causes the least disturbance to tortoise habitat while still being buildable. That alignment is included in this bill.

The bill, if passed into law would also:

  • Clarify the width of the right of way (ROW) for Old Highway 91 as a 300 foot
    ROW on federally managed lands,
  • Make explicit that the utility development protocol agreements developed for the
    HCP are included in the management plan for the NCAs,
  • Clarify that the NCAs are not entitled to any federal water rights,
  • Grant a 300 foot ROW for the northern corridor along the biologists’ preferred
    route for a northern corridor in the Red Cliffs NCA, and
  • Preserve existing utility and grazing rights in Beaver Dam NCA.

View Expansion Act Summary in PDF

About Us

The Reserve was established in 1996 to protect a large, diverse, and functional expanse of habitat capable of sustaining wildlife populations threatened by rapid development and habitat loss across Washington County in southwestern Utah. Located immediately adjacent to several growing communities, the Reserve also protects the cities’ scenic red rock backdrop and an increasingly popular area for recreation.

When you step over one of the Reserve’s distinctive “step-over” gates, you are entering a special place, a place that is a privilege to visit. Not just another mountain bike trail, not just another horseback ride. You are entering a 62,000-acre scenic wildlife reserve set aside to protect the Mojave Desert Tortoise and other rare plants and animals.

At the merging of three great ecosystems, the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau, the Reserve is biologically rich with a unique array of animals and plants. The Reserve contains the most northern populations of the desert tortoise, Gila monster, sidewinder rattlesnake, and chuckwalla – reptiles typically associated with hotter and more southerly deserts, like the Mojave. A significant portion of the shrubs in this area, such as blackbrush, are more commonly found in the cooler Great Basin Desert. The conditions in the region are such that several endemic species, those which occur no where else in the world, do occur here.