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October 4, 2015

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Legislation preserving fossil-rich area north of Las Vegas as national monument expected this year


Tiffany Brown

Calcium carbonate deposits are seen in the Elington Preserve area of the the upper Las Vegas wash in North Las Vegas, Nevada on Wednesday Aug. 12, 2009.

Tule Springs

Excavation technician for the San Bernardino County Museum, Quintin Lake, adds water to soften the soil while working on uncovering body parts of a Columbian Mammoth in the upper Las Vegas wash in North Las Vegas on Thursday Aug. 13, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Beyond the Sun

Long-awaited legislation to turn a large patch of desert filled with thousands of ice-age fossils north of Las Vegas into a national monument operated by the National Park Service will be filed later this year.

Sources say the legislation would preserve 23,000 acres roughly north of the Aliante Station resort running west to U.S. 95 and gently arcing north to about Corn Creek. Some say the legislation could drop within a matter of weeks; others say it will be months.

Fossils were found in the area more than a half-century ago. Researchers have slowly excavated mammoth, camel and other fossils for years. Access to the area is currently allowed only with permission of the Bureau of Land Management.

Collecting 10,000 petition signatures, a group known as the Protectors of Tule Springs has rallied for some kind of federal protection since the mid-2000s. Every governmental group touching the area — North Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nellis Air Force Base and Clark County — has expressed support for the idea, especially since the recession severely dampened prospects of development.

At one time, Las Vegas anticipated running a major road through the area.

To date, some 10,000 fossils — estimated to be about 1 percent of the fossil treasure — have been found in the area, most of them preserved in climate-controlled cases at the San Bernardino County Museum.

Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley are expected to co-sponsor the Tule Springs legislation.

Via email, Berkley said turning Tule Springs into a national monument would “ensure this site remains protected for visitors from around the world to continue to enjoy.” Neither Reid nor Berkley estimated when legislation might be introduced.

At the same time, Sen. Dean Heller, sources said, is expected to reintroduce legislation to turn some 10,000 acres known as the Nellis Dunes into an off-highway recreation area. Sources also said Rep. Joe Heck is expected to introduce a bill to convert a 350,000-acre area near Mesquite known as Gold Butte into a national conservation area, similar to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. But a spokesman for Heck said he was not planning to introduce legislation.

The Bureau of Land Management would be in charge of the Nellis Dunes and Gold Butte projects. The real plum would be getting the National Park Service’s oversight of the Tule Springs fossils, because the Park Service is typically written into the federal budget. Fees or some other form of funding would likely be needed to manage Nellis Dunes and Gold Butte.

The Tule Springs fossil-rich area is already on the Register of National Historic Places. In the 1960s, it was the first place radiocarbon dating was tested after the remains of ice-age horses, lions, mammoths and sloths were found.

Ideas for what the site might look like and how it might operate are filled with visions of bringing busloads of Clark County students there for research and study; another idea posited was to create a digging area, where tourists would pay a fee to work on an excavation in a designated area.

One unlikely change is the existence of NV Energy’s massive utility poles and lines that run through the targeted national monument area. While those poles and lines are not optimal for a national monument area, sources say attempts to get NV Energy to remove or relocate them have not worked.

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