EDITORIAL: Tule Springs merits national monument status

Talk about bad timing. Southern Nevada leaders have worked for years to establish fossil-rich Tule Springs as a national monument. Finally, on Thursday, they appeared before a House subcommittee in support of a bipartisan bill to award the much-deserved designation.

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross and Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kristin McMillan testified in Washington against the backdrop of a federal government shutdown — and national monument closures that have made national news on their own.

Federal protection comes at a price. For all the benefits that would result from the creation of the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument — the preservation of 22,650 acres in the northern Las Vegas Valley, recognition that would attract more tourism and research — come the drawbacks of heavy-handed, politically driven federal controls, including limits on public access to public land.

If Tule Springs were a national monument today — it would be Nevada’s first — the place would be unnecessarily closed. The dysfunction of Congress and the arrogance of the Obama administration notwithstanding, a budget stalemate is no reason to deny the public entry to its own property. The shutdown is a reminder that we need less federal control over our land, not more.

However, as with most bills, the Tule Springs legislation contains more than the national monument designation. In addition to protections for Tule Springs’ Ice Age fossils, the bill releases thousands of additional Nevada acres from federal control and improves public access to thousands more.

The bill would give 645 acres to North Las Vegas; hand over 660 acres to Las Vegas; give Clark County 2,320 acres for flood control protection in preparing the future Ivanpah Airport site; transfer 2,410 acres to the Nevada System of Higher Education; provide Nellis Air Force Base with 410 acres for training near its small-arms range; and designate 10,000 acres for off-road vehicle recreation, including an off-road park of 1,200 acres.

It’s critical that any new federal restrictions on Nevada land come with a transfer to local control of other land, and this bill does exactly that. Nevada’s entire House delegation has signed onto the Tule Springs bill for a reason: It’s great for the state. There’s no reason for the House, the Senate or President Barack Obama to oppose it.

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