MESQUITE — Gold Butte became a national monument by presidential decree late last year, but the matter is far from settled to some residents of northeastern Clark County.
Anger and suspicion of the federal government bubbled over Thursday night as the Bureau of Land Management held a two-hour public forum to answer questions and quell rumors about the new monument.
The public forum drew roughly 150 people to the city council chambers in this retirement and agricultural community about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
An overflow room had to be opened up to accommodate the crowd, which seemed divided between supporters of the monument designation and those who view it as another federal assault on local land rights.
Mesquite is the nearest city to the new monument.
The BLM opened the meeting with a short presentation on the proclamation President Barack Obama signed on Dec. 28.
Gayle Marrs-Smith, Las Vegas field manager for the BLM, tried to reassure the crowd by noting that the remote, 300,000-acre monument contains more than 600 miles of designated roads that “are open now and will stay open.”
She added that no significant changes are expected to the current rules governing the area.
The proclamation as written is “consistent with the on-the-ground management that has been going on for the last almost 20 years.”
Some audience members seemed unconvinced. Several people said they expect the BLM to do what, in their minds, it always does: gradually cut off access by closing roads and restricting use.
The Gold Butte area is home to ancient rock art galleries, sweeping desert vistas and twisted fields of sandstone hemmed in by Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon. But it is best known as the site of the long-simmering public land dispute involving rancher Cliven Bundy.
A contingent of Bundy’s relatives and supporters were in attendance Thursday, including one audience member who proudly identified himself as a member of several different militia groups.
“Where in the Constitution do you get your authority?” one man asked of the local BLM officials gathered at the front of the room.
“Where did you get your law degree?” a woman muttered in return from across the room.
The meeting was held just as the first criminal trial was getting underway in Las Vegas federal court in connection with the 2014 armed standoff between the BLM and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy.
Some of the same pro-Bundy protesters who have been demonstrating in front of the federal courthouse made the trip to Mesquite to carry their signs outside city hall.
Before the meeting, one of the protesters outside the building was blowing into a shofar, a ram’s horn traditionally associated with Jewish religious ceremonies but adopted lately by anti-government activists.
Those for or against the monument should have plenty of time to weigh in on how the Gold Butte area is managed in the future.
Tim Smith, Southern Nevada district manager for the BLM, said a notice will go out in the coming months seeking applicants to serve on the advisory board for the monument.
That board will be involved in the development of a management plan for Gold Butte, a process expected to take several years.
Contact Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.