WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has come out in favor of special protections for rich fossil beds lying north of Las Vegas, although it says more studies need to determine how best to manage the area.
A statement submitted by the Interior Department to the Senate’s public lands subcommittee on Wednesday spoke approvingly of establishing the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument on 22,650 acres of the Upper Las Vegas Wash that has drawn paleontologists from around the world to examine ice age artifacts.
“The National Park Service does not currently have a park designated specifically to protect and interpret Pleistocene fossils and the creation of this site would comprise the most significant Pleistocene paleontological resources in the American Southwest,” the department said.
The national monument — a designation for sites containing at least one resource of national significance — would border Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Paiute Indian Reservation and the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.
The Park Service completed a report in June 2010 that concluded the area appears to be “nationally significant.” But officials said more studies are needed on details such as dealing with potential vandalism, the unauthorized removal of fossils and how off-road vehicle use should be managed.
The subcommittee’s gathering of the department’s view of the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and co-sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is a necessary step before Congress can move forward on it.
Creation of the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is the lead element of a broad bill that also seeks to redesignate federal lands in other parts of the Las Vegas Valley.
Among its changes, the bill would expand the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area by 1,540 acres, convey 645 acres of federal land to North Las Vegas and 660 acres to the city of Las Vegas, expand the Metropolitan Police Department shooting range, and convey 1,886 acres to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for a new campus in North Las Vegas.
The bill also would release 9,700 acres of BLM land on Sunrise Mountain from wilderness study status, allowing it to be opened to various uses. It also would expand Nellis Air Force Base by 1,120 acres, and deliver 1,211 acres of federal land at Nellis Dunes to Clark County to create a park for off-road vehicle users.
The Interior Department said it supported most parts of the bill. However, it recommended against transferring land at Nellis Dunes until the completion of health studies into the high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in the area.
It also said a provision giving Clark County 2,350 acres for flood control near the proposed new airport at Ivanpah be conditioned on the county paying transfer costs.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.