Monday, March 23, 2015 | 2 a.m.
U.S. Senator Harry Reid and Rep. Dina Titus have introduced legislation to permanently protect a reservoir of prehistoric Nevada history while preserving a slew of marvelous outdoor recreation activities.
The region is known as the Basin and Range area, and the legislation to protect it is called the Garden Valley Withdrawal Act — SB 196 in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and HR 857 in the House Committee on Natural Resources. Permanent protections would preserve the unusually intact and unspoiled Garden and Coal Valleys and the connections between eight distinct mountain ranges, conserving an intact landscape and ecosystem. All traditional uses of the land such as hunting and grazing would be protected under this legislation, while destructive forms of development such as oil and gas drilling, mining and built structures would be prohibited.
On a recent cloudy Sunday morning, we drove two hours out of Las Vegas to Lincoln County to explore the Basin and Range landscape. It was time to experience what makes Basin and Range worth protecting.
The entrance to our destination was a dirt road off State Route 318. As we gained elevation, snowflakes danced in the air around us, blanketing the landscape in white for miles. We came to a stop at the Mount Irish Archaeological District, located in the southern part of this more than 800,000acre area. Before long, we noticed the ancient carvings in the rocks: images of bighorn sheep, human-like figures and abstract symbols. These carvings were left behind thousands of years ago by people who once called this vast area home. Sherds of broken pottery and lithic flakes littered the ground and were on display for those of us with eyes attuned to such artifacts.
Protecting Basin and Range will preserve the story of Nevada’s past. The earliest known evidence of humans living on the land dates back 13,000 years. The Mount Irish and White River Narrows Archaeological Districts are notable for their concentrations of cultural artifacts with petroglyphs, pictographs and other evidence of human habitation ranging in age from hundreds of years to 8,000 years old. More recent artifacts tell the story of 19th-century pioneers who explored the area for precious metals and minerals and were the leading force in the settlement of the West.
The Basin and Range landscape is also part of a unique and critical ecosystem: the transition zone between the Mojave Desert and the Great Basin, which contributes to a high level of biodiversity in the area. The area is home to at least two dozen threatened or sensitive wildlife species and rare plants, including the Pygmy rabbit and the White River catseye, an at-risk species found only in Nevada. In the surrounding Worthington Mountains, the Ancient Bristlecone pines — some more than 2,000 years old — can be found.
Should legislation like the Garden Valley Withdrawal Act stall in its respective committees, we fully support presidential designation using the authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Protecting the Basin and Range as a national monument would safeguard these natural and cultural treasures for generations to come and ensure this area is recognized as a special destination close to Las Vegas for locals and tourists alike to enjoy. Recreational opportunities at Basin and Range abound from hiking, camping and mountain biking to horseback riding, hunting, spelunking and sightseeing. Permanent protection would make certain that these opportunities and experiences in Basin and Range are sustained for all to enjoy.
Robert Gaudet is president of the Nevada Wildlife Federation; Laura Mistretta is field organizer for Protect Basin and Range.