What do public lands mean to Nevadans? A lot, as it were. After all, public lands make up a huge amount of the land within the borders of our state. A recent poll shows that Westerners have a conservation agenda in mind when it comes to our most natural resources. The same polling shows a pervasive like-mindedness throughout the American West, with 98 percent reporting having used public lands. Most of them also want Congress to protect those lands.
While cities like Las Vegas draw tourists with gaming and entertainment, the areas surrounding our city and throughout Nevada present a huge draw, both domestically and even globally.
The sad part is that Nevada has thus far failed to fully capitalize on the potential of its natural splendor. By comparison, neighboring Utah has Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Natural Bridges and access to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, just to name a few. These have all become iconic place names. Indeed, Nevada is home to its own amazing natural wonders, but has yet to put several of these places on the map. Many people do come to these places, despite a continuing lack of adequate facilities.
Valley of Fire State Park, Red Rock National Conservation Area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and most recently Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument are a part of Nevada’s natural assets. But there are still more! Gold Butte is one such wonder that hasn’t received federal designation with the associated management and visitor’s center that would help boost Southern Nevada’s reputation as an outdoor parks destination.
So why would our Republican delegation to Congress (Senator Dean Heller, Congressmen Joe Heck, Mark Amodei and Cresent Hardy) go out of their way to sponsor a bill to tell our President to not designate any further lands in Nevada as national monuments?
Rather than encourage the creation of parks with adequate land management to boost our tourist economy, they have in fact discouraged this. In contrast, Senator Reid introduced legislation to make something more of Gold Butte, with support from then-Congressman Steven Horsford.
Gold Butte is known as Nevada’s arm of the Grand Canyon. It’s a vast area of natural beauty and cultural heritage with Native American rock art, or petroglyphs. It is vital habitat for the endangered desert tortoise. Gold Butte is quite an interesting place because it is an area where four ecosystems collide: the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonora deserts, and the Colorado Plateau. There are 350,000 acres of public land which feature fascinating topography (rugged mountains, slot canyons, and colorful sandstone outcroppings petrified since the age of the dinosaurs), vegetation (Joshua trees and Mojave Yucca forests), fauna (the desert bighorn sheep), all peppered with hundreds of miles of dirt roads.
Gold Butte, Nevada. Image credit: Par Rasmusson.
And it’s not just Gold Butte – there are in fact dozens of places like this that could help make Nevada a place in which ever more visitors travel great distances to see. But if people are to fully enjoy Nevada’s natural splendor – with sufficient safety and accommodations, as well the preservation of its Native American rock art and wildlife habitats – proper infrastructure and management is crucial.
Southern Nevada’s proximity to the Grand Canyon and the iconic sites of Southern Utah provide an exceptional opportunity to capitalize on tourism and economic opportunities, not to mention the protection of our beautiful natural resources for our children and grandchildren. And the public wholeheartedly agrees: our government must protect these places.