RENO - Conservationists are hailing compromise legislation to revive copper mining and create a 48,000 federal wilderness area in an economically ailing rural northern Nevada county.
U.S. Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., last week introduced a bill to transfer to the city of Yerington 19 square miles of federal land near Pumpkin Hollow, a copper mine being developed by Nevada Copper.
In August, Reid said he'd support transferring the land to Yerington at fair-market value if the deal included creating a wilderness area in the region. Earlier this month, Lyon County commissioners signed off on plans for such an area around Bald Mountain in the Pine Grove Hills, located between Yerington and Bridgeport, Calif.
Shaaron Netherton, executive director of the Friends of Nevada Wilderness, said the legislation strikes a "good balance" by giving a boost to the county's economy while protecting an area rich in wildlife habitat, archaeological resources and natural beauty.
"I think it's a good faith effort on the part of everyone," she told The Associated Press. "Everybody gave a little bit and that's how we get things done in Nevada. It was a good bipartisan effort."
Plans call for the wilderness area to be named after Wovoka, the Paiute Messiah who was the leader of the American Indian movement known as the Ghost Dance that swept the country for a time in the late 19th century. He was born near Yerington in 1856 and died there in 1932.
The movement came to an end at Wounded Knee in 1890 when U.S. Army troops opened fire on a group of Lakota Sioux who were participating in the Ghost Dance.
Marge Sill, wilderness chair of the Sierra Club's Toiyabe chapter that covers Nevada and the eastern Sierra, praised Reid for insisting on a wilderness provision in the bill.
"It wouldn't have happened without him. Sen. Reid is the father of Nevada wilderness," she said. "Compromises were made but that's OK. If we don't have compromises we won't get anywhere."
Conservationists originally sought a wilderness designation for as many as 85,000 acres around Bald Mountain.
Lyon County officials and residents have joined the state's congressional delegation in touting the bill's potential to create up to 800 high-paying mining jobs. Nevada Copper officials have said the legislation would help them go into production sooner on a larger scale.
The surrounding land targeted in the bill would be used for businesses serving the mine, but plans also include a BMX track, outdoor amphitheater, a solar farm and a light-manufacturing district.
"There is no doubt that this bill will provide some much-needed relief at a time when Nevadans are desperate for jobs," Heller said in a statement.
Reid said that he expects Congress to consider the bill early next year.
"It is the right thing to do, and I am going to do everything I can to protect the environment and get those jobs going in Lyon County," he said.
Similar bipartisan legislation to protect 26,000 acres of the scenic Pine Forest Range north of Winnemucca as a federal wilderness area also is pending before Congress.