Reid introduces bill to create Gold Butte National Conservation Area

WASHINGTON — An effort was launched in Congress on Thursday to designate 350,000 acres of government-protected conservation land and wilderness northeast of Las Vegas.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., proposed to create a National Conservation Area at Gold Butte, a region of rugged mountains, sandstone ridges, native American petroglyphs and abandoned mine sites in Clark County between the Overton arm of Lake Mead and Nevada’s border with Arizona.

“Gold Butte is Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon,” Reid said in a statement that accompanied the legislation he introduced. “As more and more people discover this remarkable place, we must protect these resources for future generations while continuing to allow recreational opportunities we enjoy today.”

The bill would create a 348,515-acre Gold Butte National Conservation Area to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management in a way that “conserves, protects and enhances” its natural, historical and scenic resources.

Within the conservation area, the bill sets aside 129,500 acres that would be designated as federally protected wilderness to be preserved in its natural condition. Additionally, 92,000 acres would be designated as wilderness within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Gold Butte would become the third National Conservation Area in Clark County, joining Red Rock Canyon that was designated in 1990, and Sloan Canyon that was designated in 2002.

Conservationists for more than a decade have lobbied for a Gold Butte to become a federal conservation preserve. They applauded the new effort, saying the designation would highlight the area as a “go to destination,” and upgrade its management by the BLM that oversees it now as “areas of critical environmental concern.”

“This diverse landscape represents our cultural history with petroglyphs dating back centuries,” said Nancy Hall, of Friends of Gold Butte. “It is home to threatened species, and it provides top-notch recreational opportunities including hiking, photography, and bicycle and ORV riding.”

But some residents in nearby Mesquite and Moapa Valley have wanted a stronger voice in the matter. They say creating more wilderness will “lock up” the land and expand the government’s presence. Some have suggested turning the area over to the state or county instead.

Various Nevada lawmakers have explored Gold Butte legislation in recent years but abandoned it after observing a lack of local consensus.

That still appears to be the case. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., for instance, is declining to support the Reid bill.

“While greater protections for Gold Butte are needed, good public land policy is made through a transparent and open public process,” Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith said Thursday. “This legislation does not meet that threshold.

“Senator Heller believes that local stakeholders need to have sign-off on legislation that affects their own backyard,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, this legislation does not have the requisite local support at this time, so Senator Heller cannot support it.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., plans to introduce a Gold Butte bill next month, a spokesman said. Horsford, who represents the area in the House, convened a series of meetings last month with local stakeholders.

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

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