Sunday, July 30, 2017 | 2 a.m.
When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke leaves Nevada after reviewing the Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments, there’s only one acceptable message for him to take back to Washington.
It’s that the boundaries of the monuments should remain exactly as they are now, and that every square inch of the areas should continue to be federally protected.
It’s alarming that the review is even taking place.
Donald Trump ordered it in April, contending that national monument designations going back to 1996 were a ““massive federal land grab” and carried out an “an abusive practice.” The two protected areas in Nevada are among 27 that are under review, most of them in Western states.
As with the other targeted monuments, the order put Gold Butte and Basin and Range in danger of being reduced in size and of losing their protected status.
That would be a tragedy. Here are five reasons why:
1. The monuments are a national treasure from an environmental, cultural and historical standpoint. They’re living museums — home to rare species of wildlife and flora, Native American petroglyphs that date back thousands of years and environments found nowhere else on earth, to name a few of their wonders.
2. The designations followed years of planning, public meetings and congressional debates in which thousands of Nevadans expressed support for protecting the areas.
3. The monuments are critical to the development of Nevada’s outdoor tourism industry. In a state that desperately needs to diversify its economy and grow beyond its reliance on gaming tourism and mining, it’s an absolute must for the monuments to be left as they are now.
4. Trump was dead wrong in suggesting that President Barack Obama, in exercising his authority to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act, committed an overreach. The areas are vast, no doubt — about 1,100 square miles for Basin and Range and about 460 square miles for Gold Butte. But given that Nevada is the seventh-biggest state in the nation by land mass, around 110,000 square miles, the two areas combined take up about 1.5 percent of the state’s acreage. There’s still a lot of room for oil and gas exploration, mining, ranching and commercial development.
5. By successfully encouraging Obama to protect Basin and Range, former Sen. Harry Reid scored a major victory for Nevada and especially Las Vegas in the state’s fight against the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository.
The designation blocked a potential rail route to Yucca Mountain, and anything that impedes the development of the disaster-in-the-making waste site is good for Las Vegas. Were the site to go online, thousands of tons of highly radioactive waste would be transported by truck and rail through the city, creating the possibility of a devastating accident or terrorist attack.
The bottom line is that critics of the designations have yet to mount a convincing argument about why the value of the areas in terms of economic development outweighs the benefits of protecting them. It’s not as if the remote sites are chunks of lush farmland, thick timber or prime real estate.
On the flip side, Gold Butte and Basin and Range offer incalculable value as a site for outdoor enthusiasts, nature observers and those who are interested in Nevada’s environmental and cultural history.
When Zinke was a Montana congressman before being appointed to the Interior, he repeatedly said he opposed the sale or transfer of public lands ownership to states and positioned himself as a defender of public access to federal lands.
That being the case, he should easily recognize that this isn’t a difficult equation. The areas deserve to be left alone.
Basin and Range
• Designated July 10, 2015
• 704,000 acres
• Located 115 miles north of Las Vegas
• From the Bureau of Land Management website: “The Monument preserves the legacies of 13,000 years of culture. The White River Narrows Archaeological District represents one of the largest concentrations of prehistoric rock art in eastern Nevada and includes panels dating back 4,000 years and contains the northernmost known examples of the Pahranagat style of rock art. The Basin and Range area was mostly unknown to European-Americans until the 1820s. Mormon settlers came to the area in the mid-19th century. Mining began in the area in the 1860s and head frames, mining cabins, and other structures associated with the region’s mining history can be found in the Mount Irish area.”
• Designated Dec. 28, 2016
• 296,9737 acres
• Located about 90 miles northeast of Las Vegas
• From the BLM website: “The brightly hued sandstone provides a stunning canvas for the area’s famously beautiful rock art, and the desert provides critical habitat. The area is popular for outdoor recreation, and visitors to the monument can hike to rock art sites, drive the Gold Butte Backcountry Byway to the area’s namesake mining ghost town, hunt desert bighorn sheep, or tour the area’s peaks and canyons on horseback.”