WASHINGTON — A proposal to grant special status to thousands of acres containing prehistoric artifacts north of Las Vegas advanced in Congress on Thursday.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill that would designate a Tule Springs Fossil Bed National Monument on 22,650 acres.
The action was taken by voice vote as the Senate panel met for the final time in the 2013 session.
The bill advances to the Senate floor in January. A companion bill still awaits action in the House.
Besides adding a new feature to the national park system, the bill would redraw the federal land map in parts of the Las Vegas Valley.
It would expand conservation areas of Red Rock Canyon by 1,530 acres, release 9,700 acres along Sunrise Mountain that had been tied up in wilderness studies, convey 645 acres of federal land to North Las Vegas for development, and turn over 660 acres to the city of Las Vegas for the same.
The measure also would deliver 1,211 acres of federal land at Nellis Dunes to Clark County to create a park for off-road vehicle users and set aside 1,886 acres for use by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for a new campus in North Las Vegas.
“Once again, stakeholders at every level were able to come together to achieve three critical needs for the Las Vegas Valley: conservation, economic development, and recreational opportunities,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., a bill sponsor with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
While the measure would make marks around Southern Nevada, the centerpiece is creation of what would be the 109th national monument. That is a designation to recognize a landmark or “other objects of historic or scientific interest.”
Conservationists applauded the vote.
Tule Springs “has potential to be a model urban national park that invites global scientific interest, enhances Southern Nevada’s tourism-based economy, and provides exceptional onsite education for Nevada’s students,” said Lynn Davis, senior Nevada program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.
Southern Nevada leaders urged Congress to act on a Tule Springs preserve in the Upper Las Vegas Wash where paleontologists have discovered troves of Ice Age fossils. Besides its preservation value, they believe it could boost Las Vegas as a destination for scientists and eco-tourists.
In October, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee told the House public lands subcommittee the legislation would be “a gigantic step in the right direction toward the region’s economic recovery.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.