September 29, 2008
Berkley Seeking Federal Protection for Land in County
By Steve Tetreault
By STEVE TETREAULTStephens Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., introduced a bill in Congress on Friday to designate almost a half-million acres of federal land in Clark County as wilderness or for other protections.
The bill would create a National Conservation Area with some controls on visitors to Gold Butte, an area encompassing 362,177 acres - more than 565 square miles - located 65 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Within the conservation area, 128,373 acres would be given added protection and managed as federal wilderness, a designation that prohibits vehicle traffic of any kind.
Additionally, the bill would grant wilderness status to 91,000 acres at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
"Gold Butte is an amazing natural treasure ... and there is strong support in Southern Nevada for protecting this desert gem before it's too late," Berkley said in a statement.
The bill represents a step forward for a coalition of Nevada preservationists that for a decade has lobbied Congress to name Gold Butte as a federal conservation area in Clark County, same as Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon.
The region that is between Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon- Parashant National Monument in Arizona features stunning rock formations, petroglyphs and remnants of mining towns that thrived early last century.
But lands bills customarily are contentious as they usually pit the conflicting interests of developers, preservationists, backpackers, off-roaders, local governments, hunters, campers and the like.
Almost immediately on Friday, Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., charged that residents in the eastern part of the county were shut out, and that he would oppose the Berkley bill.
"What is happening with this legislation is irresponsible," Porter said. Local boards "have been cut out of the process. Gold Butte is a local and national treasure but it is irresponsible to slide this in in the final hours of the session."
"We are trying to find out how (Berkley) plans to get it passed," Porter said.
A coalition that included Friends of Gold Butte and the Nevada Wilderness Project had brought the proposal to the state's delegation earlier this summer.
Porter, whose district includes Gold Butte, sought reaction from town boards in Mesquite, Moapa Valley, Bunkerville and other communities. He put the idea aside after Bunkerville registered a strong objection.
Berkley, though, said the Clark County Commission "fully supports this effort."
In part, county officials want more protected land in order to maintain the county's multi-species habitat plan that balances development with set-asides for the desert tortoise and other threatened animal and plant species.
John Wallin, director of the Nevada Wilderness Project, said Porter put the plan down and Berkley picked it up.
"Congressman Porter's office did not show the diligence or zeal that we felt this needed, and Congresswoman Berkley has done an incredible job to make sure this happens," Wallin said.
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