Not many thought it could happen, but the legislation to protect huge chunks of the Black Rock Desert swept through on the coattails of Congress as members got ready to rush out the door.
We support the National Conservation Area, which covers 600,000 acres of the desert, and the wilderness designation for 757,000 acres. It's much more than a tribute to Richard Bryan's tenacity and respect in the Senate; it's also an unprecedented step toward bringing Nevada into the world of conservation.
Despite the hue and cry of some critics, Bryan's bill does not infringe on the public's right to use and enjoy a vast, remarkable piece of Nevada. It truly enhances and protects the mountains and playas - already under federal management - for future generations.
The Black Rock bill, hailed as the most extensive wilderness protection bills to get through Congress this year, is even more significant for Nevada. It marks a watershed moment in history when the efforts of conservationists won out over "multi-use," a euphemism for holding public lands in trust until the right developer came along.
Unfortunately, the 11th-hour passage of the Black Rock legislation will give more ammunition to Sagebrush Rebels to argue that 1.2 million acres were somehow taken away from Nevada by federal fiat. We happen to agree with polls that showed most Nevadans supported it and disagree with opinions that a statewide vote would have gone against Bryan's bill.
But we'll never really know, and what's done is done. In fact, in Nevada, this is probably the only way such an extensive wilderness bill could ever have been accomplished.