Conservationists push back against wilderness proposal | NevadaAppeal.com

Conservationists push back against wilderness proposal

Steve Ranson
LVN Editor Emeritus

Conservationists are pushing back on Sen. Dean Heller's proposal that would cease protection for dozens of designated wilderness study areas in the Silver State.

Nevada's remaining 63 Wilderness Study Areas cover a total of 2.5 million acres. Advocates said these areas should remain as WSAs until a public lands process reviews each area with full public involvement and scoping of comments.

A small gathering met at Millennium Park on Wednesday afternoon to oppose Heller's proposal, which he hopes to push through before the end of the current congressional session. The group also stood up a life-like cardboard cutout of Heller because, as one organizer said, this is the only way the senator will hear their concerns.

"But let's not let the bureaucratic and legislative nature of this discussion hide the true value of these lands," said the first speaker, Brian Beffort, director of the Toiyabe chapter of the Sierra Club. "Wilderness Study Areas are among the last, intact, undeveloped pieces that remain of our natural heritage."

With the recent number of forest and wildland fires in the West, Beffort said the blazes have destroyed wildlife watersheds, recreation and the land's beauty. He said it makes sense to protect the remaining places.

"Future generations are not going to look back and tell us we protected too many wild places," he said. "They will wonder why we didn't protect more."

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Beffort said the senator is going against Congress' wishes when the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964 that created the legal definition of wilderness in the United States and protected 9.1 million acres of federal land. The Wilderness Act is well known for its evocative definition of wilderness:

"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

Jennifer Willett, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno's School of Social Work, said her profession has seen a recent resurgence of concern for the environment and how social work students learn more about the physical environment and its conservation issues, pollution and climate change.

"These issues are relevant to social work because people are impacted by their local government," she said in her prepared remarks. "If our local ecosystem is not healthy, we will not be healthy either."

Willett said she has traveled extensively throughout the state interviewing people about how the local environment impacts them and their communities. She said many Nevadans have told her protecting lands is vital.

Stacey Shinn of the Nevada Conservation League said Heller's staff has or is approaching six counties to receive their approval to eliminate WSAs in their jurisdictions. The counties include Elko, Nye, Eureka, Lander, Humboldt and Mineral. Shinn said Churchill County is not involved at this time.

Echoing Willett's comments, Shinn cited a recent online survey conducted for the Center of Western Priorities indicating 77 percent of Nevadans consider the lands important to them.

"That's why Sen. Heller's proposal to eliminate wilderness study areas in Nevada is so out of touch," she said, adding Nevadans want to see public lands protected and accessible.

The speakers, along with the master of ceremonies for the event, 10-year-old Robbie Bonds, said public lands need to keep in public hands and not be opened for further economic development that is the Bureau of Land Management is advocating. In his comments, Bonds, founder of Kids Speak for Parks, said people come to Nevada for its picturesque scenery. He also described several WSAs in Churchill County to include the Stillwater Range and Jobs Peak.