By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
Trump administration land management officals are currently seeking input from all stakeholders on national monument designations made in recent years, in Nevada and Utah, by President Barack Obama. And local advocates for retaining access to public lands have been gearing up to give them just that.
On June 1, a small delegation of staffers from the office of Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev) visited northeastern Clark County to meet with local leaders about the Gold Butte National Monument. They took a five hour tour of the monument guided by former Congressman and Virgin Valley resident Cresent Hardy. Also in attendance were members of the Mesquite City Council, Bunkerville Town Advisory Board and the Partners in Conservation (PIC) organization.
The tour covered a lot of ground for one morning. The group went up into the foothills of the Virgin Mountain range to look over the vast countryside, then visited the Whitney Pockets area, viewed areas with ancient petroglyphs, drove out to the old Gold Butte town site, and stopped at an old ranching corral site at a place called Horse Springs.
“It was definitely a whirlwind tour,” said Cresent Hardy in an interview last week. “But we really wanted to give them a sense of the sheer size of this thing and how much ground it covers. I think we did that.”
Gold Butte was designated as a national monument by executive order on December 28, 2016 in the final days of the Obama Administration. The declaration placed nearly 300,000 acres into the monument which remained under the responsibility of the BLM.
The monument includes the vast desert area between the Lake Mead National Recreation Area to the west, and the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument to the east.
Many residents of northeaster Clark County opposed the designation, fearing that traditional access to the land would be further restricted with added federal designations.
Other national monuments designated in the final months of the Obama presidency were also at odds with members of the public nearest to those lands. The Bears Ears National Monument, which comprises 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah, was designated over strong objections from the state’s congessional delegation, state and local officials, and neighboring residents. Furthermore, in 2015, Obama established the Basin and Range National Monument on 704,000 acres in Lincoln County; an act which enraged residents and elected officials alike in the area.
Earlier this year, after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, members of the Utah congressional delegation approached administration officials to seek a full review of these designations. In April, Trump responded by issuing an executive order to review the monuments against twelve different criteria, to determine whether the lands actually qualified for the designation they had been given.
In May, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made a visit to Bears Ears. He met extensively with state officials and local residents on the ground and received their input into the designation.
Earlier this week, Zinke submitted an interim report to the President stating that his determination that the size of the Bear’s Ears National Monument needed an adjustment.
“Designating a monument that – including state land – encompasses almost 1.5 million-acres where multiple-use management is hindered or prohibited is not the best use of the land and is not in accordance with the intention of the Antiquities Act,” said Zinke in a statement on Monday. “I’ve submitted my 45-day interim report to President Trump expressing my belief that the monument needs to be right-sized.”
Zinke has not yet made a Nevada visit. Hardy explained that staffing at the Interior Department is still not completed with political appointments taking longer than expected. Thus Heller’s office was given the task of reaching out to stakeholders on both sides of the issue to discuss the Nevada monuments, Hardy said.
“They were asked to come out and see the site and see if it met the perameters of the Antiquities Act,” Hardy said. “Then they will report back to the Secretary of Interior on what they find.”
One of the objectives of the tour, for local stakeholders, was to show that Gold Butte Monument, as designated, was much too large for the elements that it is actually purporting to protect.
“The Antiquities Act that allows for the designation of national monuments is designed to protect objects or specific geologic features, not huge tracts of open land,” said PIC chairman Lindsey Dalley who was in attendance for the tour. “There is not really a specific feature to protect out at Gold Butte.”
Hardy agreed that the national monument should be focused on protecting resources in the minimum possible footprint. “There are some central cultural characteristics; like petroglyphs and some of the other Native American elements; that need to be protected,” he saids. “But you could do that very comfortably with 500 acres tops. You don’t need 300,000 acres for it.”
Other historical features, including old mining and ranching sites, are of tremendous interest to local people whose ancestors worked on that land, Hardy said. But they hardly qualify as national treasures for protection.
“These are living historical sites,” Hardy said. “People still visit them to recall their significant heritage there.”
“Those old mines and corrals are from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, they are significant to local folks who have a link to them,” said Dalley. “But they hardly qualify as a national treasure. The whole area is beautiful, but just being a beautiful area doesn’t qualify it as a national monument.”
Another point made to the delegation was that a national monument designation was not the best vehicle for meeting the management needs at Gold Butte, Dalley said.
“There is no disputing that the area needs management, we have been saying that for more than a decade,” Dalley said. “But the monument will not allow it to be managed. It will only allow it to be shut down.”
One example is the issue of water, Dalley said. “In a desert environment, how you take care of the water, in its desert seeps and springs, is tremendously important to the environment and to wildlife,” Dalley said. “But it is not being managed out there. The springs are just being left alone to get overgrown and plugged up; and that is not helping the overall resource.”
During the review period, Department of Interior officials are encouraging the public to make comments about the national monuments under review. This is a unique opportunity for area residents to make a difference, said Elise McAllister who is the Administrator for PIC and a Moapa resident.
“This is the first time in 25 years now that we are actually having a conversation with the federal agencies about rolling things back in lands designations,” McAllister said. “So it would be foolish for us not to make comments. They are asking for our input and they are listening. So at least we need to try to make something happen.”
PIC is encouraging residents to send comments on these issues. The deadline for comments on the Nevada monuments is July 10.
Comments may be submitted online at www.regulations.gov. Enter ‘DOI-2017-0002-0001 in the search bar, then click ‘Comment Now’ in the upper right hand blue box to be taken to a page to enter comments.
Comments may also be sent via mail to Monument Review, MS-1530; US Dept. of Interior; 1849 C Street NW; Washington, DC 20240.
McAllister said that the comments should also be sent to Senator Heller’s staff. This can be done by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject line write ‘Comments on monument review’.
Comments may also be sent to PIC where they will be bundled together and sent as a package to Heller’s staff. To do this, they may be sent to email@example.com.