Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2017

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Rep. Kihuen to Zinke: Protect our monuments

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Steve Marcus

Rock formations are shown in the Little Finland area of Gold Butte National Monument Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017.

Editor’s note:

This week, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is scheduled to visit Nevada as part of the Trump administration’s review of 27 national monuments. Based on the review, Trump will decide whether to curtail or eliminate protections for those areas, which include the Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments in Nevada.

In announcing the review, Trump said the designations were “a massive federal land grab” that “should never have happened.” For advocates who have sought protection for the monument, Trump’s comments raised concerns that he would revoke the designations or reduce the size of the protected areas and open them to oil and gas exploration, residential development and other commercial uses.

In anticipation of Zinke’s visit, the Sun reached out to several advocates for Nevada’s two monuments. Today, we present guest columns here from three of them:

Last week, I called on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to listen to Nevadans as he continues to review the designations of Gold Butte and Basin and Range as national monuments.

My remarks followed a letter I sent to Secretary Zinke last month laying out the potential negative cultural, ecological and economic impacts of changing or downgrading our national monuments. My hope has been to make clear that Nevadans’ voices must be heard when it comes to making decisions about our state’s future.

Over 70 percent of Nevadans support maintaining the designations of Gold Butte and Basin and Range monuments. This should be a no-brainer for Secretary Zinke — Nevadans have made their voices heard. They want these monuments.

There is a long history in Nevada of promoting conservation of our spectacular public lands as a method of preserving what makes Nevada so special. Some outside our state may balk at protecting these lands. They decry the protection as “federal government overreach,” claiming it’s being forced on us from Washington, D.C. But the reality is not so simple, and assertions that the federal government designated these monuments without any consultation with local stakeholders in Nevada are completely without merit. These designations were announced only after years of stakeholder outreach, long periods of public input and determined work by local activists.

Still not convinced this is in Nevada’s best interest?

Nevada’s economic future is directly tied to the preservation of public lands. Gold Butte and Basin and Range have helped diversify our economy by attracting outdoor enthusiasts from across the nation and around the world. The outdoor recreation economy, a $14 billion industry that supports 148,000 jobs, could act as a long-term economic boon for the areas and small towns surrounding Gold Butte and Basin and Range. Jobs that are created by the outdoor recreation industry can help revitalize rural economies, as many of our public lands are in more rural communities. These are jobs that can’t be outsourced.

In a recent study on the economic benefits of monumental designation, the Outside Las Vegas Foundation found that designating and protecting Gold Butte alone would draw an estimated 35,000 additional visitors to Nevada per year, creating $2.7 million in revenue as well as 28 full-time jobs for the nearby town of Mesquite. Not to mention, being near public lands increases property values and quality of life for local residents.

But let’s be clear: Hard-working Nevadans don’t want Gold Butte and Basin and Range to become piggy banks for private interests. We should not allow our cultural heritage to be compromised for financial gain. These monuments have been important to humans for thousands of years, beginning with prehistoric peoples who sought shelter from the harsh environment in the unique rock formations of Gold Butte, to the Southern Paiutes who have held many sacred ceremonies on the site and continue to have a strong spiritual connection to the land.

The area is also home to incredible historic sites like the corral at Horse Springs, an ingenious rock wall set into the hillside that was used to direct animal herds. Historic sites like these tell the story of the first ranchers in the area, who personified the country’s western expansion and the spirit of pioneer ingenuity.

Our public lands are tremendously important to the people of Nevada, and they must remain protected for our future generations. Before doing anything that could potentially ruin these natural wonders, Secretary Zinke must listen to Nevadans who overwhelmingly support their designation.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., was elected in 2016 to serve Nevada’s 4th Congressional District.

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