By Vernon Robison
Moapa Valley Progress
Rep. Shelly Berkley (D-Nev.) has formally requested President Barack Obama to declare the Gold Butte complex a National Monument.
Berkley was one of more than a dozen members of the House Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coalition (SEEC) that sent a letter to the White House urging the President to use his authority under the National Antiquities Act to designate more public lands as national monuments. The July 25 letter specifically included the Gold Butte Complex as well as the Pine Forest Range, both in Nevada.
The letter reviewed the fact that Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a report last November which had highlighted eighteen “legislative opportunities” to designate public lands as wilderness or National Conservation Areas. Claiming full public support for these conservation measures, the letter then blamed a Republican majority in the House for taking no action on the “opportunities”.
“Thank you for challenging Congress to act on these noncontroversial proposals right away,” the letter stated. “Unfortunately, the Republican majority in the House has failed to pass a single one of these measures, even those introduced by Republicans, and instead has focused on rolling back environmental protections for our nation’s land, water, and wildlife.”
The letter concluded: “In light of the House’s failure to report legislation protecting federal public lands, we encourage you to use the Antiquities Act and protect our country’s most cherished public lands for future generations.”
Local opponents to a new federal designation at Gold Butte expressed amazement at the claim made in the letter that the issue was non-controversial.
“This is the most controversial public lands issue in southern Nevada,” said Lindsey Dalley, chairman of the local Partners in Conservation organization. “The request loses all credibility on that point alone.”
The Gold Butte region has long been a battleground between national environmental groups, who would like to see tighter conservation measures taken there including vast areas of new federal wilderness, and local residents who worry that such measures will cut off their traditional access to the land.
In 2008, Berkley introduced legislation in Congress that would designate the 362,171 acres lying south of Bunkerville and north of the Colorado River between the Virgin River and the Arizona state line as the Gold Butte National Conservation Area (NCA). Within the conservation area, 128,373 acres were proposed to be given added protection and managed as federal wilderness. The 2008 bill never came to a vote.
Since that time, environmental groups have continued to push for new federal protections on Gold Butte. But no legislation has been introduced. A National Monument designation can add tighter restrictions on public lands through an executive action of the President. No approval from the Congress is needed.
“Since President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devil’s Tower in Wyoming as America’s first national monument, through President George W. Bush’s designation of more national monument acreage than any of his predecessors, our Nation has a long and rich history of Democratic and Republican Presidents establishing national monuments,” stated SEEC co-chair Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) in a press release which accompanied last week’s letter. “I urge the President to continue to take decisive action to preserve and protect our country’s historic landmarks for future generations.”
Dalley stated that a National Monument has as many problems and restrictions as an NCA designation. “The main problem with both is that it takes away local decision-making and local management efforts,” Dalley said. “I think that the whole thing is definitely a scare tactic to force an NCA.”
The press release claimed that National Monument designations have the additional benefit of providing a boost to the surrounding area’s economy.
“Entrepreneurs are basing their business location decisions on the quality of life in an area,” the press release stated. “Businesses are recruiting talented employees by promoting access to beautiful, nearby public lands.”
But Dalley said that nothing could be further from the truth.
“We’ve seen it before: the more federal designations and restrictions that are put on the land, the more it chokes economic opportunity and destroys our local economy,” said Lindsey Dalley, chairman of the local Partners in Conservation group. “Ninety percent of the time, a federal designation and local commerce are mutually exclusive elements. Any politician telling you that federal land designations are going to create jobs are listening to the wine and cheese special interest crowd.”
Dalley said that Berkley’s involvement in Gold Butte was “nothing short of political malpractice”. He added that she should be held accountable for it in the polls this fall.
Berkley is currently running for a Nevada Senate seat against Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).
“What is she doing, as a House member, getting involved in things like this so far outside of her own district?” Dalley said. “It shows to me that she is just a Harry Reid lapdog and a servant of the national environmentalist special interests. This latest action is clearly just another example of environmentalists totally demagoguing this issue to a well-meaning but ill-informed segment of the public.”