LAS VEGAS — The sudden designation of a state-sized area of desert, valleys and mountains in Nevada as a new national monument was derided Friday by local congressmen as an act of political cronyism involving outgoing U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and President Barack Obama.
Reid shrugged off the criticism and hailed the president’s use of executive power to protect about 1,100 square miles of Silver State rangeland. Presidents of both parties have invoked the Antiquities Act of 1906, he said.
“This is so important for Nevada,” Reid said by telephone minutes after Obama signed an act creating the Basin and Range National Monument.
“I think, for me, the most beautiful land in the world is the desert where I grew up,” said Reid, who announced recently he won’t seek a sixth term in the Senate. “This is one of the rare unspoiled parts of the Nevada desert — basins, arroyos, washes, gullies, craggy mountains.”
The new monument covers an area about the size of Rhode Island about a two-hour drive north of Las Vegas. It includes “City,” a sprawling modern art sculpture by reclusive artist Michael Heizer.
National monument designation adds protections from development, resource extraction and land swaps.
The presidential action drew complaints from Nevada’s Republican congressmen, Cresent Hardy, Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, and praise from Democratic U.S. Rep. Dina Titus. The Sierra Club and the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce also voiced support.
“I’m disappointed for the Nevadans who were left out of the process, including the commissioners of both counties affected: Lincoln and Nye,” said Hardy, who represents the district from which the monument is carved.
Hardy referred to Reid’s upcoming retirement, saying “legacy building in the twilight of one’s career shouldn’t be the driver of our nation’s public land management.”
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, and Gov. Brian Sandoval, both Republicans, also complained about lack of local involvement.
“With the stroke of a pen, President Obama has bypassed Congress and unilaterally restricted the use of over 700,000 acres of Nevada’s public land,” Heller said.
Sandoval said Nevada state and congressional officials should have been consulted.
“Our local ranchers, environmentalists, and community stakeholders are the best experts in ensuring Nevada’s lands are preserved, protected and accessible,” the governor said.
Obama also set aside more than 330,000 acres in northern California for a new monument at Berryessa Snow Mountain. Obama also declared that Waco Mammoth, a relatively small site in central Texas, would join the list of national monuments.
“All of them speak to some incredible history,” Obama said as he formally designated the new monuments in the Oval Office.
The three new sites bring to 19 the number of monuments Obama has created or expanded since taking office. Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, presidents have broad authority to designate historic or ecologically significant sites without congressional approval, protecting those areas from new development like mining, oil wells and grazing.