Out of the wilderness, a plan

Much of the sound and fury in Nevada over use of federal lands comes from gnashing of teeth about "full statehood" and sparring over whose cattle can graze where.

It comes at a time when, nationally, environmental groups are accused of uncompromising extremism and, at the other end of the spectrum, the Bush administration is seen as willing to pave over paradise if it will help energy companies turn a profit.

In this atmosphere, is anything getting accomplished? Where can we look for a potential success story in the battle over federal lands policy?

Amazingly enough, we may have to search no further than Clark County.

Senators Harry Reid and John Ensign introduced legislation this week that attempts to clear a swath through the thicket of issues surrounding growth, recreation and wilderness in the Las Vegas area.

It is, we think, a remarkable piece of legislation because it attempts to walk a very thin ridge between the conservationists' desire to lock up land for wilderness in Southern Nevada while also identifying corridors for utilities and transportation -- the inevitable invasion of growth onto previously wide-open spaces.

"We were not able to please everybody," Reid said of the months of study that went into the proposal by all kinds of special-interest groups, "but we were able to please everybody somewhat."

In fact, it's the kind of legislation that has the potential to make just about everybody mad.

Wilderness proponents are disappointed they won't be getting more than the 440,000 acres designated in the bill. And off-road motorists complain it will only release 183,375 acres from wilderness study to be available for more uses.

So far, though, both sides seem willing to live with the compromises. And that's what makes it important legislation.

Many politicians would have run like hares away from a complicated proposal that tries to address so many problems. Instead, Democrat Reid and Republican Ensign have drafted a bipartisan bill which actually stands a chance of succeeding.

We have yet to see whether it will get picked apart in hearings. At this point, however, we can hold it up as an example of how civilized, constructive debate over federal land use in Nevada can actually accomplish something.


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