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Wilderness protections sought -- Coalition targets Southern Nevada sites
Monday, April 30, 2001
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
Wilderness protections sought
Coalition targets Southern Nevada sites
By KEITH ROGERS REVIEW-JOURNAL
From a bird's-eye view, they look like vast areas of raw land that surround
the nation's fastest growing urban area.
These rugged areas that ring the Las Vegas Valley include sandstone cliffs
that jut to the sky, tree-studded slopes that flank Mount Charleston, and
6,000-foot peaks of black volcanic rock left from eruptions 13 million years
They are, according to the Nevada Wilderness Coalition, areas that Congress
needs to protect from development to preserve their pristine features and
enhance the quality of life of the 1.4 million people who live in the valley
and millions more who visit it each year.
Having succeeded in December in their push for protection of 757,000 acres of
wilderness in the Black Rock Desert north of Reno, groups in the coalition --
Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Nevada Wilderness Project, The Wilderness
Society, the Sierra Club, the Red Rock Chapter of the National Audubon
Society and the Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association -- now have their
sights set on Southern Nevada.
"We have a responsibility to safeguard this back yard wilderness in order to
ensure open space and scenic beauty, provide recreational opportunities for
all, and secure the health of our wildlife and beautiful Joshua trees," says
the coalition's campaign brochure that encourages citizens to write elected
officials and urge them to back their wilderness proposal for the Mojave
They have persuaded the Bureau of Land Management, which controls many of the
areas they have targeted, to hold public meetings this year, part of the
process to bolster legislation being drawn up by Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev.,
and John Ensign, R-Nev. If passed by Congress and signed by President Bush,
this new Southern Nevada public lands measure will ensure these wildlands
remain open and protected from development.
Members of Reid's staff said the Clark County lands measure is in an
exploratory phase and, when finalized, will address not only wilderness and
off-road recreational issues but other aspects of land use including utility
power lines, water needs and the proposed Ivanpah airport.
"At this point, we're about to reach out to stakeholders to see what
different groups need," said Reid's press secretary Nathan Naylor.
Wilderness advocates stress that designating wild areas for protection will
not lock up the land.
"Wilderness frees up the land from irresponsible off-road use and
development," said Friends of Nevada Wilderness organizer Jeremy Garncarz.
He said there is a misconception in designating some 25 "study areas" into
protected wildlands. "A lot of people have beliefs in their heads that they
won't be able to go in them. That's not the case."
Under the coalition's plan, existing back roads would remain open but no new
roads would be allowed, and some redundant, two-track trails that lead to the
same location would be closed. Specific concerns about road closure would be
ironed out at public forums, Garncarz said.
Brian O'Donnell, an associate director of the nationwide group The Wilderness
Society, said there is a need to refine boundaries of public lands in
Southern Nevada that qualify for wilderness designation.
"We're not talking about wholesale closing of roads," he said. "We want
people to stay to the existing roads and leave the roadless areas roadless."
O'Donnell anticipates the proposal will be scrutinized by the Bush
administration, but he doesn't anticipate total rejection or unending battles
over issues that he believes can be resolved.
"If we go by his father, Bush Sr. and Reagan signed more wilderness bills
than any other president," O'Donnell said.
"Down here in Southern Nevada, most of the conflicts are not dealing with big
energy. We don't face Exxon or Mobil saying, `This shouldn't be wilderness,'
" he said.
Specifically, the coalition's proposal includes wilderness designation for
areas that have been under study on lands managed by the BLM, the Forest
Service, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The
agencies are studying the areas to see if they qualify for wilderness
protection and would make recommendations accordingly.
Much of the targeted areas -- which total hundreds of thousands of acres of
public land -- were toured by Reid in 1996. At the time, he said, "There's no
question there are certain areas we've got to protect. Just because it
doesn't have water running through it and big green trees doesn't mean it
The BLM estimates that 19 percent -- or 577,000 acres -- of some 3 million
acres of public land controlled by the bureau's Las Vegas field office
consists of wilderness study areas.
Two of those study areas are in the McCullough Mountains that rise from the
landscape 30 miles south of Henderson. One area, closer to the Las Vegas
Valley, includes a canyon rich in ancient American Indian rock art. Other
parts of the McCulloughs are home to bighorn sheep, mule deer, quail and the
Mojave Desert tortoise, a federally protected, threatened reptile.
These areas have few signs of human impacts and create "a rare opportunity to
preserve a true basin-and-range wilderness," according to the coalition.
Peter S. Di Primo
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