Heller, Amodei on wrong side of history
January 16, 2017
Last week Congressman Amodei and Senator Heller introduced legislation to "prevent the threat of executive action designating or expanding national monuments without Congressional approval or local support."
Their legislation would add Nevada to Wyoming as the only states exempt from presidential designation of National Monuments, except as authorized by Congress.
Their legislation is a reaction to President Obama's designation of Gold Butte as a monument last month. Congressman Amodei's news release about his anti-national-monument legislation says he "has always" supported a process that includes "input from interest groups, local communities, and elected representatives," insinuating the designation of Gold Butte took place without any of this. He went onto say Nevadans "had no say in" the designation of Gold Butte.
Gold Butte is located in southern Nevada — an area not represented by Congressman Amodei. I asked a couple of southern Nevadans what they thought of his assertion they had "no say in the matter" of Gold Butte.
Jaina Moan, executive director of Friends of Gold Butte, says, "The proclamation to make Gold Butte a National Monument is the result of a long, transparent process. Concerned citizens worked for 15 years to achieve permanent protection for Gold Butte with strong, vocal support from tribes, community groups, sportsmen, recreationists, elected officials and many others."
JL, a young Sierra Club volunteer from Las Vegas, echoes Jaina Moan. He wrote to me, "It angers me how Congressman Mark Amodei does not consider all the time and effort local volunteers have put in supporting the permanent protection of Gold Butte. For years, Nevadans have been asking for the protection of Gold Butte and fortunately, recently we have succeeded to bring that change to our state reshaping the future for our kids and families. Seeing the thousands of passionate volunteers and everyday persons of all ages coming together to protect a historic piece of land is amazing to me."
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Amodei and Heller say elected representatives weren't consulted. Have they forgotten at least half of Nevada's Congressional delegation has supported monument designation for Gold Butte for years and years? Moan points out elected representatives weren't only consulted, they were almost pleaded with. "Since 2008, legislation to protect Gold Butte was introduced twice in the Senate and 3 times in the House but Congress failed to act."
Why don't Amodei and Heller recognize the tribes, elected officials, community groups, sportsmen, recreationists, elected officials and JL's "everyday persons of all ages" who supported the Gold Butte monument? Don't they count?
It's too bad Amodei and Heller are letting their ideology get in the way of what is best for the state. In a 2014 study, economics research firm Headwaters Economics found local economies surrounding all 17 of the national monuments they studied expanded following the creation of new national monuments. People in Las Vegas get this. In a video thanking President Obama, Senator Reid, and Congresswoman Titus for Gold Butte National Monument, Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said:
"One of the key attractions of Las Vegas, especially for international visitors, is our proximity to so many amazing outdoor experiences. Maintaining these protected areas and adding others in southern Nevada provides us with a wider array of amenities to market to our international visitors and the growing number of nature tourism visitors."
So Gold Butte had years of local support from southern Nevadans and designation as a national monument will probably be an economic boon to the surrounding area. Yet Amodei and Heller want to use its designation as a national monument as an excuse for effectively prohibiting future national monuments in our state. Does that make sense?
We should look at Wyoming, the only state in the union that doesn't allow national monument designations. Wyoming passed a law similar to what Heller and Amodei are proposing in 1950, in the midst of a huge fight over designation of Jackson Hole National Monument and its addition to Grand Teton National Park.
In her recent book The Hour of Land, Utah writer Terry Tempest Williams tells the story of this fight and of the Wyoming cowboy who led it. Ranchers in Jackson Hole were irate and, led by local rancher Cliff Hansen, they turned their cattle loose on the new monument. (Remind you of a certain family in Nevada)?
She writes "Cliff Hansen later became Wyoming's governor and a United States Senator. And before he died, he would admit that he had been on the wrong side of history."
Cliff Hansen said, "I want you all to know that I'm glad I lost, because now I know I was wrong. Grand Teton National Park is one of the greatest natural assets of Wyoming and the nation."
There have been no new national monuments in Wyoming since that fight and the ensuing law. But tourism thrives in Jackson Hole, next to the national monument the cowboys didn't want. Teton County is the wealthiest county in Wyoming, and in 2010 it received $18.9 million in gross sales tax — much of it from visitors to the national park that was formerly a national monument.
So please remind me, Congressman Amodei and Senator Heller, what your legislation will do for our state. In my view, it will do more harm than good.