Contrary to claims by local officials, including the Washoe County commission, a coalition of wilderness groups says most Nevadans want the Black Rock Desert protected.
And Brian O'Donnell of the Wilderness Society said they have a poll to prove it.
Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., was attacked by county officials when he proposed creating a National Conservation Area around the Black Rock/High Rock desert. Washoe, Pershing and Humboldt county commission members said it was a plan that limits use of the lands and takes control of them away from residents. They convinced the Nevada Association of County Officers to oppose Bryan's proposal saying it is widely opposed by Nevadans.
Everyone on the statewide board joined the resolution at the Feb. 29 meeting except Clark County Commissioner Myrna Williams who said she couldn't commit her county until at least discussing the issue with fellow commissioners.
O'Donnell said Friday 75 percent of Nevadans polled last week favor Bryan's proposal setting aside 690,000 acres as a National Conservation Area.
He said 69 percent favor an even more ambitious plan being pushed by the conservation groups that would set aside 1.6 million acres.
O'Donnell said 54 percent of the more than 600 people sampled in the survey by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research indicated they "strongly favor" prohibiting mining, geothermal development and other industrial activities in the Black Rock/High Rock area.
Hunting, hiking, camping, horseback riding and even livestock grazing would still be allowed in the area that includes huge areas of unspoiled wilderness, historic Gold Rush immigrant trails and prehistoric remains including sabertooth tigers and mammoths.
Strongest support came from Washoe and Clark counties. But even in rural Nevada, supporters and opponents split evenly, according to the results. And O'Donnell said it wasn't a partisan issue, that support came from Republicans and Democrats alike.
"I'd say this poll shows that Senator Bryan's proposal is right in line with what the people of Nevada want, which is more public land protected and more land in Nevada designated as wilderness," said O'Donnell.
He said some of the initial opposition seems to be against the federal government rather than the plan.
"Most of the opposition to the Black Rock and other proposals in the state of Nevada is not based on the specifics of those individual proposals," he said. "It's more of a general anti-government attitude."
He said when presented more specifics, many said they were in favor of the proposal.
"We hope that Senator (Harry) Reid and Representatives (Jim) Gibbons and (Shelley) Berkley will listen to the people of Nevada and work with Senator Bryan to pass legislation to protect this magnificent area," said Kevin Mack of the Nevada Wilderness Project.
His sentiments were echoed by Marge Sill of Friends of Nevada Wilderness and officials from the Sierra Club and American Lands.
They point out that , while more than 85 percent of Nevada's land is publicly owned, the state has the least amount of designated wilderness of any Western state.