Those looking to protect thousands of Ice Age artifacts in the desert north of Las Vegas may have found a powerful ally.
The Obama administration recently came out in favor of a national monument designation for thousands of acres of prehistoric fossil beds between the Las Vegas Paiute Indian Reservation and the National Desert Wildlife Refuge.
A July 31 statement released by the Interior Department said a park built in the area would be “the most significant Pleistocene paleontological resource in the American Southwest,” fueling speculation that administration officials might be able to push ahead with unilateral action on long-awaited fossil protections.
But this isn’t the first time Tule Springs park advocates seem to have made a well-placed friend.
Lynn Davis, Nevada program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, can remember a couple of false starts and near misses in the more than five years she has worked to make the monument a reality.
A handful of initiatives, she said — from a Bureau of Land Management-managed proposal in 2002 to last year’s first stab at a piece of National Park Service monument legislation — have either failed, died or are still languishing in committee.
Still, Davis said, it’s hard not to get excited about the recent revival of the Las Vegas Valley Public Lands and Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument Act.
The Interior Department wants to conduct more studies on how to best manage the monument area proposed under that bill, including measures to keep vandals from stealing the fossils, but Davis expects that the department will find plenty to like about it.
“This is a piece of legislation that has tremendous support,” she said. “It has unanimous resolutions from the Clark County Commission and the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. It has the entire Nevada delegation behind it, but with Congress the way it is these days, it’s anyone’s guess. We’d like to see it go through congressionally, but if not, it is possible that the president can take unilateral action because it’s a national monument.”
The act, reintroduced by Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Steven Horsford in May, sets aside nearly 23,000 acres to be overseen by the National Park Service for use as a “paleontological, scientific, educational, scenic and recreational” resource in the region.
The bill also would convey land for Nellis Air Force Base, a Metropolitan Police Department shooting range and a Clark County off-road vehicle park.
It also would include room for NV Energy renewable energy power lines, a new North Las Vegas campus for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and acreage for the expansion of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
Some park advocates and area residents aren’t crazy about those provisions, citing fears over development in the Sunrise and Frenchman Mountain area and concern over how to manage off-road vehicle use.
Jill DeStefano, a founding member of Protectors of Tule Springs, is not bothered by any of it. Her focus is the fossils, about 10,000 of them, scattered across 500 dig sites and 13,000 acres in the Upper Las Vegas Wash.
DeStefano said the bill would not have gotten this far without plenty of nods to local stakeholders. Thanks to their participation, she said she feels “75 or 80 percent” confident the bill will make it into law this fall.
In fact, if it meant finally seeing a fossil monument in Tule Springs, she would be willing to tack on a few political sweeteners of her own.
“There are groups that want something changed, but this could pass tomorrow, for all I care,” DeStefano said. “I wish I could find something that would make me feel 100 percent confident, but I don’t see how we could give them a better package. At this point, it has zero environment opposition, and the involvement of the National Park Service has brought everyone on board. I don’t see how it wouldn’t pass.”
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at email@example.com or 702-477-3839.