Babbitt: Balance wildlife, renewable energy search
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Former U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt joined environmental leaders at a gathering in Nevada to emphasize protection of wildlife habitat as federal managers chart plans for solar and wind energy projects across the West.
Babbitt, who served under President Bill Clinton, appeared as an advocate for the Colorado-based Conservation Lands Foundation at the third annual “Friends Rendezvous” that began Friday in Las Vegas with representatives of about 40 groups, including Friends of Red Rock Canyon.
Babbitt, former governor of Arizona, said it won’t be easy to tap new energy while at the same time preserving wildlife, native cultural sites and landscape views across millions of acres of national parks, monuments and conservation areas.
But he said it can be done if the Bureau of Land Management adopts better policies to ensure those treasures coexist with development of solar, wind and geothermal power on public lands.
“The important thing is to have good front-end land use planning,” Babbitt told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“It’s not about kicking everybody off the land. It’s about protecting traditional uses of the land. And it’s not about building all of the infrastructure that comes with a national park. It’s about getting the community behind it and protecting traditional uses.”
The gathering was in advance of a national summit the BLM planned in Las Vegas beginning Monday to chart develop plans for such lands.
Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation, said the window to protect these areas is closing fast.
“These places are what makes the West the West,” he said. “It’s our history; it’s our heritage as a nation. We want to make sure that our kids and future generations can experience some of these unspoiled natural areas the same way we have.”
Babbitt said the best way to protect public lands, based on his experience with national monuments in Southern Utah, is to get local communities involved.
“I spend a lot of time tramping around the West meeting with local groups and talking about the importance of getting this BLM conservation mission really embedded in the cultural and political matrix of the West,” he said.
Among the best examples to follow in Southern Nevada is Nancy Hall, a Mesquite resident who is president of Friends of Gold Butte, Babbitt said.
Hall devotes countless volunteer hours as a steward of Gold Butte, a sprawling natural area some 60 miles northeast of the Las Vegas Valley.
“The land belongs to us and we need to care of it. It belongs to everyone,” she said. She’s pushing for construction of a visitor center in Mesquite to help promote the site.
“The idea of having this visitor center in town brings the community together to take care of the area,” she said.
“Since Las Vegas is the gateway to the Grand Canyon, it’s really important for Las Vegas to have a piece of the Grand Canyon landscape under protection,” he said.