Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2018

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County’s public lands wish list to Congress draws ire of recreation groups

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Yvonne Gonzalez

Residents line the aisle at a Clark County Commission meeting to weigh in on a public lands resolution that passed unanimously on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. The resolution asks Nevada’s congressional delegation to draft bills that would make environmental designations, among many other changes.

Clark County is sending Nevada’s congressional delegation a list of public lands priorities that has drawn concern from recreation and environmental groups alike.

The county commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend conservation areas and additional parcels for Bureau of Land Management sales, proposals that some worry will harm recreation, business and tourism for events like the Mint 400 off-road race. Supporters of the proposal said the county could miss out on making recommendations to new federal plans expected within the year, and that the 14 items on the wish list sought to balance use, conservation and future growth.

Many attendees asked the county to take more time to consider input before pushing the resolution forward. The county had been working on drafting priorities, but its options and timeline were shortened when a federal directive to the BLM compelled the agency to complete a decade-long study within a year and limit it to 300 pages, said Marci Henson, county director of air quality and administrator of the Clark County multiple species habitat conservation plan.

Henson said the new timeline will likely result in a lawsuit against BLM. Any federal legislation stemming from the county’s resolution would take months to draft and introduce.

The BLM’s truncated decision-making process could lead to permanent land-use decisions if the county can’t get its own plans in place, Henson said. The county is recommending new areas of critical environmental concern and seeking mitigation language so that it can use the new ACEC designations to offset the possible impacts future development would have on protected species. In areas designated for disposal, or BLM sale, it’s possible tortoises would be moved, Henson said.

Henson said officials are working to amend the 1998 BLM Resource Management Plan, which identified desert tortoise areas of critical environmental concern. A subsequent travel and transportation planning process inventoried and reviewed 1,505 acres of routes in the impacted areas, resulting in the closure of 235 miles of those routes.

“That’s what we can expect moving forward from these ACECs,” she said. “That they would be designed for areas of critical environmental concern, that they will also go through our travel and transportation planning process, where all of the routes will be inventoried, and we’ll decide which ones should stay open and closed, and then the open roads will be designated as open, and available for recreation, both motorized and nonmotorized, and that they’ll be mapped.”

Some desert tortoise advocates said the county’s resolution could harm tortoise conservation efforts, while others supported the county’s efforts to try to protect the species. Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the county was trying to work around the Endangered Species Act.

“The subversion of the Endangered Species Act would set a terrible precedent where cities and counties across the country would run to Congress every time they wanted to develop on endangered species habitat,” he said.

Henson said the Mint 400 race would be allowed to continue through 2023 based on its current permit, and that the county has committed to work with organizers to find an alternate route. The commission also voted Tuesday to create a committee to preserve and enhance off-highway vehicle recreation, a group that could make recommendations on possible legislation.

Dozens of members of the public weighed in on the resolution Tuesday. Representatives from outdoor groups spoke against pushing outdoor racing further away and selling recreation space for development. Henson acknowledged that the Mint 400 is a difficult race to accommodate. Some residents spoke in favor of parts of the resolution, such as returning federal land to the Moapa Band of Paiutes.

The county will send the resolution to Nevada’s congressional delegation, a bipartisan group. County commissioners asked that they be able to review and approve any potential legislation that the representatives draft, and Henson said language can be whittled down or added as the process moves forward.

Nearly 90 percent of Clark County’s roughly 5 million acres is federally administered, with at least 3 million under the BLM, Henson said.

“They have a huge impact on planning and land-use decisions in Southern Nevada,” she said.