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October 20, 2017

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Nevada turns out in force on Capitol Hill to support Tule Springs legislation

The hometown crew was out in full force at the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, singing the praises of legislation to declare Tule Springs a national monument.

The bill to bring Tule Springs into the national parks system was one of three Nevada bills heard at Thursday morning’s public lands subcommittee hearing, which drew local mayors, city planners and all four members of the Nevada delegation.

“This is turning into Nevada month,” subcommittee chairman Rob Bishop joked.

The assembled Silver Staters pointed out the economic and historical benefits of preserving the archaeological fossils at Tule Springs under federal authority.

“It presents a unique opportunity, where the preservation of our past can be an economic driver of our future,” said Kristin McMillan, president of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce.

At the heart of the Tule Springs bill is 22,650 acres of land that is home to some of the country’s oldest and best-preserved ice age fossils, including wooly mammoths, bison, direwolves, and sabre-toothed cats.

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., the bill’s author and main sponsor, ticked off these and other species as he played up the fascination factor for children, tourists and scientists that a national parks designation could tap into.

“It would make the region a world destination for archaeological tourism,” Horsford said. “This will have significant positive education and resource opportunities for Southern Nevada.”

Supporters hope that the designation of Tule Springs will encourage more scientists to come to the area on a permanent basis, and thus help to diversify the economy. To that end, the Tule Springs bill would also transfer a parcel of land to UNLV for the development of a satellite campus.

While the area is within Horsford’s district, the area’s potential to affect the dynamic of the local economy prompted lawmakers representing neighboring district to throw their support behind the legislation, as well.

“This is a common-sense piece of legislation that will protect and preserve our natural treasures … and help create much-needed jobs in Nevada,” said Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.

“Its provisions will certainly affect people who live throughout the valley,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., pointing out that “people who go to visit these fossils may want to stay on the Strip,” which is in her district.

McMillan cited figures from the U.S. Travel Association that show about half of the tourists visiting Las Vegas every year leave the city to participate in some sort of ecological tourism.

“This is going to add to those opportunities to diversify within the tourism sector,” she said.

The bill also sets aside land for recreation areas and 1,300 acres for “job-creation zones” in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas — prompting North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee to call the bill “the most significant public lands legislation in Southern Nevada for over a decade.”

Horsford and Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who took over as chair during the part of the hearing focused on Tule Springs, congratulated the panel of Nevadans for the work they had done together.

“Hopefully … (we) can use this as a model for how we as federal representatives can partner to do good things,” Horsford said. “Despite all the partisanship and the gridlock, there are places where we can get good things done.”

But it was clear that after four or five years of negotiating at home, the panel is eager to see things get a move-on.

At the end of the comments, Lee broke form and turned a question back to the panel.

“Might we be so bold if we can get this to the full committee this year?” he asked.

Amodei chuckled.

“Of course that’s subject to other things going on that’s a little above the paygrade of the folks up here,” he said. “You’ve done a nice job.”

The committee also heard two other Nevada bills to give Storey County the right to sort out its own surface land claims, which due to unfinished paperwork from the late 1800s, complicate transferring titles in about 75 percent of the sales and other ownership cases in Virginia City.

The second bill would allow local municipalities in states that are 33 percent or more owned by the federal government to buy parcels of land at a fair market rate from the federal government without going through the hoops of coming to Congress for special permission every time, provided there are no environmental concerns with the transfer of the land.

The changeover would shorten the time it takes to sell parcels of land from the BLM to local or private buyers to 18 months instead of the years it often takes even noncontroversial proposals to get out of the congressional process.

Qualifying parcels would have to be small — “a quarter-section or less,” Amodei said — and either within or just next to an urban area.

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