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COMMENTARY: Public lands bill could be boon for Southern Nevada

Public lands in Clark County are a local and national treasure. From the Spring Mountains to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, from Red Rock Canyon to Lake Mead and many places in between, these federally designated lands provide outstanding wildlife habitat, afford world-class recreational opportunities, protect important cultural resources and support Nevada’s $12.6 billion outdoor recreation economy.

Nevada’s congressional delegation is currently working to develop historic legislation that protects special lands such as the Piute and Eldorado valleys, expands outdoor recreation and enhances economic development. Such a proposal could be a huge win for Southern Nevada and all Americans who care for our treasured lands if it appropriately balances conservation, recreation and economic development.

For decades, starting with the Clark County lands bill of 2002, public land legislation in Nevada has always addressed these three issues — conservation, recreation and development — in a balanced way. The “Nevada Way” has allowed us in Southern Nevada and throughout the state to expand recreational opportunities in Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon national conservation areas, preserve deserving lands and bighorn sheep and desert tortoise habitat in the Muddy Mountains and enhance economic development opportunities throughout the Las Vegas Valley.

We have an opportunity as a community, and with the leadership of our Nevada congressional members, to shape the future of Southern Nevada once again.

Unlike years past, the challenge before us is not just about what Clark County needs now, it is about what future generations will need 50 years from now when we’ve surpassed 3 million residents and have been confronted with the realities of climate change. The federal legislation under development in Clark County provides an opportunity to thoughtfully address this question and provide solutions.

We stand ready to get to work to build a proposal for our community that addresses economic development needs, gives locals and visitors alike places to play and takes bold steps toward addressing climate change. To truly have a balanced proposal in our new reality, we need to mitigate for impacts of current and future development, conserve lands necessary for human and wildlife adaptation and protect and restore connectivity between remaining wildlife habitats for the endangered desert tortoise, the iconic bighorn sheep and many more desert critters.

This means protecting places such as Mount Stirling in the Spring Mountains and lands around the Muddy Mountains and additions to the Red Rock National Conservation Area. It also means preserving lands in the southern end of the county — which are being proposed as a national monument — that is sacred to the Fort Mojave tribe and eight other Yuman-speaking tribes, as well as the Hopi and Chemehuevi Paiute, and contain exceptional cultural resources and wildlife habitat.

We need this proposal to succeed. It is the only way we have a chance at a healthy and sustainable community with the quality of life we’ve all grown accustomed to.

— Andy Maggi is executive director of the Nevada Conservation League. Jocelyn Torres is senior field director with the Conservation Lands Foundation.

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