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Gold Butte preservation remains tough sell

WASHINGTON — Legislation to create 48,000 acres of government-protected wilderness in Lyon County and another bill to designate 26,000 acres of wilderness in Humboldt County are moving in Congress, but efforts to set aside sensitive public land in Southern Nevada have become more complicated.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the state’s federal representatives are split on what to do about Gold Butte, 344,000 acres of Clark County between Lake Mead and the Parashant National Monument in Arizona.

The region, 65 miles northeast of Las Vegas, includes colorful sandstone cliffs, stunning rock formations, petroglyphs and the remnants of mining towns from a century ago.

It is protected by administrative designation of the Bureau of Land Management, and preservationists long have urged that it at least be upgraded to a Congress-blessed national conservation area, much like Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon.

Rumors that introduction of a Gold Butte bill was imminent were squashed after a closed-door meeting of the Nevada delegation last Tuesday.

“We all don’t agree on how we should handle Gold Butte,” Reid said after the meeting. “This may be one issue where we won’t be able to agree.”

He said a bill may be introduced without full delegation support, which would make passage a dicier proposition.

Outdoor interests including conservationists, ranchers and community leaders in northeast Clark County, off-roaders and backpackers have found it tough to agree on how the 535-square mile Gold Butte region should be managed to balance preservation and access. Then-Rep. Shelley Berkley introduced a Gold Butte bill in 2008 that went nowhere.

“The key has always been buy-in from all the players,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. “That seems to be the rub.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., who represents the part of the state that includes Gold Butte, had scheduled meetings about the issue in Mesquite this weekend.

“I am continuing to do due diligence with the local stakeholders,” he said. “Until there is local stakeholder support, we can’t move forward.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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