Certain to cause a loud local outcry, President Obama went ahead and created a 704,000 acre, 1,100 square mile, national monument conservation area by proclamation July 10 in a ceremony at the White House, along with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
Called the Basin and Range National Monument, it adds large sections of land to conservation protection in Lincoln and Nye counties. It is the second monument created in Nevada since December.
Federal officials praised the proclamation in recent statements.
“Today’s action builds on local efforts to preserve and protect this special place, while also allowing traditional ranching practices, recreational opportunities, future scientific study and national security exercises,” Jewell said.
Steve Tetrault, reporting in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, noted the president used the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, not only to create the Basin and Range Monument, but also proclaimed the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in northern California and the Waco Mammoth National Monument in a fossil-rich area of central Texas.
The White House described the monument as an “iconic American landscape that includes rock art dating back 4,000 years and serves as an irreplaceable resource for archeologists, historians and ecologists,” Tetrault wrote.
The area also includes the mile-and-a-half long , 48-year old, on-going project by sculptor Mike Heizer, called “City.”
Senators Harry Reid and Dina Titus, both D-Nev., attended the White House signing. Reid said, “This is representative of what desert is all about in Nevada. It is these beautiful mountains and all this lovely desert…You’ve got petroglyphs all over the area. I think it is very important this is not ruined.”
In December 2014, Congress passed legislation creating the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument on 22,650 acres at the northern edge of the Las Vegas Valley.
Reid and Titus had also tried to get legislation passed for the Basin and Range Monument, but came up short. Heizer and Reid continued to lobby the president to act, after it became clear Congress was not going to do anything.
The monument will encompass Garden and Coal Valley, separated by the Golden Gate Range and include the Mount Irish Range, the Seaman Range, the Worthington Mountains, the Hiko Narrows and the White River Narrows.
Most economic activities including mining, energy leasing, and much of grazing will be withdrawn, however some grazing will be allowed to continue under existing rules and regulations for a few of the ranch operations already there.
The proclamation will not affect use of motorized vehicles, construction and maintenance of water infrastructure, and construction of fences and other range improvements related to grazing operations. Nor does it affect U.S. military use of the airspace and allows continued military access for emergency response and training activities.
A press release by the BLM said the designation will also “protect outstanding opportunities to recreate such as hiking, hunting, horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing and rock climbing.”
The 1906 Antiquities Act allows the president to set aside areas of “historic or scientific interest.”
President Theodore Roosevelt used it that year to create Devil’s Tower National Monument. Since then, sixteen other presidents have used the Act to create such national monuments as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Monument in Maryland, and the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers Monument in Ohio.
Nevertheless, some Lincoln County residents have expressed varying degrees of anger at the signing of the order.
County Commission chair Kevin Phillips said the County has fought this happening for years. “It’s disgusting. It’s loathsome. It’s illegal. It’s unfair,” he is quoted saying in the Review-Journal article. “We feel like we’re not citizens.”
He said he feels all this does is to add another layer of government restriction to a county which is already 97 percent owned by the federal government, who won’t give back what they promised to give back in 1866.
He said in the article, it’s an action by, “an imperial president, and some imperial senator,” that will forever close the area to oil, gas and mineral exploration that might have given the struggling county a much-needed boost.
Phillips said he fears the federal government will also someday take aim at wanting to regulate ranching out of existence in Nevada as well, regardless of their claims to the contrary.
Lincoln County rancher Varlin Higbee thought so as well. He is just one of several operations out in the area of the new monument. He said, “All the letters we have received on this say it is going to be positive, but my gut instinct and my experience is this is going to be the worst thing that ever happened to us.”
He continued, “At this point in the game there are very few grazers left in the monument. And it’s not that they just take it away from you, they just regulate you out of business.”
Charles and Monty Wadsworth, Kelly Johnson, Robert Steele, Gary Sprouce, and Vaughn Higbee are among ranchers who run cattle on the new monument land.
Higbee said the key language in the proclamation regarding ranching operations is “present time and existing regulations,” which he fully expects will changed again and be more to the detriment of the rancher.
Congressman Cresent Hardy, R-Nev, who represents the district the monument is in, said he was “upset they didn’t bring in any local involvement, people that are most affected, into this from either Lincoln or Nye County. I don’t believe there are any ranchers that have been involved in any of the discussions.”
He said for the president to make the kind of statement he did, “that he didn’t care, he just wanted it done. My issue is that I do care. I put an amendment forward to try to solve that, but they moved this up before our amendment becomes law to make it to where the locals could have involvement. To say this area is pristine like no other, I say the whole state of Nevada is pristine.”
Hardy also referenced the 1906 Antiquities Act, “which states it is to be the minimum footprint of that which you are trying to save, and this (Basin and Range Monument) is far beyond the minimum footprint. The federal Department of the Interior already has a backlog of $23 billion of land they can’t take care of, and here we want to create more?”
In the meantime, Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman, said in the Review-Journal article, she was “extremely displeased by the move, but not the least bit surprised. She said Reid has spent his career locking land away from Nevada residents.
But Reid has responded to criticism from people in Lincoln and Nye counties, quoted as saying there is no need to worry. “This is going to be great for you. This is going to be an attraction. It’s going to be world famous. World famous!”
Hardy said he thinks Reid’s comments are far from accurate. “Tourists aren’t going to be able run out to this basin and range. Maybe a few, but not an amount that will economically viable. This is locking people out of the land.
Reid is quoted in the article as saying, “I’m protecting the desert. I don’t want railroads going through this. I don’t want highways going through this. Here is something unique.”
Jewell said, “The president’s action ensures that this area will remain a beloved resource for generations to come.”
The Nevada Farm Bureau Federation (NVFB) President Hank Combs, issued a statement regarding the announcement of designation.
“Nevada Farm Bureau is disappointed with the decision of President Obama to designate the 704,000 acre Basin and Range Monument as a national monument. Local government officials and stakeholders have worked persistently to protect and preserve the land and its natural resources in Lincoln and Nye County for generations. This designation will make those preservation efforts more difficult and will negatively affect local ranchers who diligently conserve the land while feeding our growing population.
Nevada Farm Bureau policy calls for the collaboration of livestock production, agriculture advocacy and other impacted groups to coordinate strategy on Nevada federal land issues. This decision eliminated local input of those individuals who are directly affected by the designation and who possess the expertise to make decisions about lands in Nevada.”