Friday, April 29, 2005 | 4:28 a.m.
April 30 - May 1, 2005
Ancient animal bones and two rare plants discovered in the Las Vegas Valley are bringing federal, state and local agencies together in an effort to preserve them while urban growth continues to explode nearby.
Researchers surveying the land known as the Upper Las Vegas Wash for a new Nevada Power Company transmission line found emerging from an ancient lake bed a nearly complete fossil record dating back 190,000 years.
The 22,000 acres cupping the northern edge of Las Vegas on Bureau of Land Management land include about 5,000 acres that could be sold at auction to developers later this year.
First, however, officials and the public will have a chance to assess the hidden treasures and decide the best way to protect them.
Archaeologists, biologists and botanists have surveyed a 10-mile swath of land north of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas that contains fossil fragments of mammoths, horses and camels that roamed Southern Nevada 11,000 years ago.
Two rare plants endemic to the area were also discovered: the Las Vegas bearpoppy and the Las Vegas buckwheat.
Those finds and other signs of past lives were exposed at 438 sites explored by Eric Scott, curator of paleontology at the San Bernadino County Museum in Redlands, Calif., and a team of experts.
"It seems we have so little left in this valley worth preserving," Scott said during a December 2004 tour of the team's findings.
In addition to an environmental assessment, the experts and the public will gather enough information for writing a Conservation Strategy Agreement that will allow some development without trashing the treasures, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon said.
The process will also lead to an environmental assessment of the area.
Monthly meetings of 13 task groups will be scheduled through July, Cannon said. The task groups allow experts and the public to share information on fossil preservation, resource protection, environmental education and recreation and developmental needs of the area.
The first meeting is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on May 31 at the Bureau of Land Management conference room, 4701 N. Torrey Pines Drive. All meetings are open to the public.
People interested in becoming involved can call Cannon at 515-5057 to join one of the task groups covering such topics as Native American interests, conservation or education.
An Upper Las Vegas Wash Working Group composed of the task groups was formed to inform the Bureau of Land Management about all of the diverse interests concerning the fossil-rich area, Cannon said.
The goals of the working groups and the city of North Las Vegas parcel for sale must mesh in the end, preserving and protecting sensitive habitat and species while allowing nearby development.
After July the BLM will draft an environmental assessment for more public comments in August.
The Conservation Strategy Agreement will be open for public comment for 30 days, Cannon said.
The BLM has identified 5,000 to 8,000 acres of particular concern in the Upper Las Vegas Wash.
The area of concern includes Tule Springs, a 980-acre site where Columbian mammoths, camels, bisons and horses were found in the 1960s.
Of the 438 new "significant" fossil sites discovered, 200 of them contain mammoth bones.
BLM archaeologist Stan Rolf said that the proposed conservation area is considered one of the richest ancient geological sites west of the Mississippi River.
In 1962 one of the largest archaeological digs in the world occurred in the area to determine if early man emerged from the fossil bones found in the wash. Known as "The Big Dig," scientists from UCLA invented Carbon-14 dating during the 9-month fossil hunt.
However no human evidence was discovered during that dig 43 years ago.
The research did help put the Tule Springs site on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The two rare, living plants occupy a habitat scientists describe as "badlands" on an old lake site known as the Las Vegas Formation. Their habitat must be preserved.
The Las Vegas buckwheat is a rare plant that thrives in such an inhospitable environment.
Researcher James Reveal has proved through DNA testing that the Las Vegas buckwheat is unique.
The Las Vegas bearpoppy is already listed on a multispecies habitat conservation plan drawn up in the 1990s after the Mojave Desert tortoise was listed as endangered.
The poppy is considered a sensitive species by the BLM and "critically endangered" by the state.
The bearpoppy cannot be grown from seed, but scientists are studying other ways to preserve it.
The Las Vegas buckwheat, however, is not covered by the county's conservation plan.
The buckwheat has been proposed as critically endangered, since it was not known to exist until the northern valley survey was completed. There are three known populations of the plant and fewer than 8,000 individual shrubs exist.