The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources opposes building the Book Cliffs Highway because it would have irreversible impacts on wildlife.
The 83-mile route would connect Ouray, Uintah County, with the I-70 freeway in Grand County. It was proposed by the Uintah and Grand county commissions to draw tourists and open up tar sands, oil shale and gilsonite deposits to development.Conservation groups and hunters have opposed the project as detrimental to wildlife. Elk, deer, bobcats, kit foxes, golden and bald eagles, black bear, mountain lion, grouse and other animals thrive in the region.
According to a report on the project, written Nov. 30 and signed by DWR director Timothy H. Provan, the draft environmental impact statement on the project is riddled with errors. Provan's analysis was addressed to Carolyn Wright of the Utah Office of Planning and Budget, to be forwarded to the state Resource Development Coordinating Committee.
The preparation of the draft environmental statement on the road recently was attacked by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which called for a federal investigation of whether highway backers had improper contacts with the consultants who wrote the draft.
The draft statement "has numerous flaws," wrote Provan. These include "incomplete analysis; incorrect conclusions based on incomplete analysis; and a failure to address significant resources and impacts."
Provan wrote that the alternative that the Bureau of Land Management favors - paving the existing dirt roads - is not discussed in enough depth in the draft statement. The report "does not identify how this alternative meets the stated purpose and need," he added.
The wildlife chief charged that the report fails to meet regulations of the federal Council on Environmental Quality concerning mitigation for unavoidable impacts, riparian and wetland vegetation impacts, cumulative impacts, indirect wildlife impacts, the cost-benefit analysis, and other areas.
Off-road vehicle use "has a substantial negative impact on wildlife, particularly elk," he wrote. The Book Cliffs have some of the state's best elk habitat.
The report simply states that use of this type of vehicles will increase if the road is built, he wrote.
According to Provan, "If this road creates additional mineral development as proposed, more impacts (to wildlife populations) will occur."
The section of the draft statement that shows the road's benefits identifies an area of nearly 1.9 million acres that "could benefit from the construction of the proposed highway," in the draft's words.
"This benefit was referring to developing alternative fuel sources," Provan commented.
"At the public hearings, tar sands developers claimed they can extract 5 billion barrels of oil from the PR Springs site if the road is developed. They state it would take 3,000 to 4,000 people to operate this extraction industry.
"These statements are used to develop a case for building the road, and need to be included when it comes to addressing wildlife impacts," he wrote.
In other words, if backers cite enormous developments as boons coming from building the highway, then the impacts of these same developments must be fairly analyzed, according to Provan.
Instead, the report concludes that "no reasonable, foreseeable future actions were identified that would result in cumulative impacts." Since the draft report says no foreseeable future impacts would occur, it doesn't analyze cumulative impacts, he wrote.
"Increased poaching, displacement of wildlife due to OHV (off-highway vehicles), snowmobiles and other recreation activities were discussed . . . but not used seriously in addressing impacts."