Nevada officials oppose possible national monument |

Nevada officials oppose possible national monument

The Associated Press

ELKO – Elko County is joining Nevada’s congressional delegation in trying to nip in the bud any ideas the Obama administration might have about establishing two national monuments in northern Nevada.

The U.S. Interior Department recently listed the Owyhee Desert in Nevada and Oregon and the “Heart of the Great Basin” in Nevada’s Nye County as possible candidates for federal designation.

A draft memo said the Owyhee is worthy because it is one of the most remote areas in the continental U.S. and the Great Basin is “one of North America’s least appreciated wildland mosaics.”

The Elko County Commission voted Thursday to send a letter to Gov. Jim Gibbons, Nevada’s congressional delegation and the White House to oppose any such move.

Commissioner Sheri Eklund-Brown said the monuments likely would restrict new commercial activity on the lands, as well as recreation, mining and other industries.

“This is a fairly urgent situation that we need to address,” she said.

Under the Antiquities Act, established in the early 20th century, the U.S. president can designate monuments without congressional approval.

U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., are pushing measures in Congress to require congressional approval of any such federal designations.

The Interior Department’s draft memo said the Nevada sites and several others would be good candidates for designation. The memo doesn’t mention any acreage and notes that “further evaluations should be completed prior to any final decision, including an assessment of public and congressional support.”

The Monitor, Toiyabe and Toquima ranges in Nye County feature alpine tundra, rushing creeks, aspen groves and sage grouse habitat. In addition, thousands of petroglyphs and stone artifacts provide insight to the area’s inhabitants from as long as 12,000 years ago, the department said.

The Owyee is characterized by juniper-covered deserts, natural arches, mountains and ancient lava flows. It is home to the largest herd of California bighorn sheep, elk, deer, cougar, redband trout, sage grouse and raptors.

Ensign said his bill earlier this week would require Congress to approve any monument designations.

“The economy in Nevada is hurting worse than in most other parts of the country,” Ensign said. “At a time when the administration is touting its goal of job creation, these monument designations will actually take jobs away from our state.”

Heller, who introduced a companion bill in the House, noted that 85 percent of Nevada’s land is owned by the federal government and potentially subject to such designations.

“It is no secret that the federal government has a large presence in our state,” Heller said. “At any time, any president can close access to our own backyard for any reason.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also opposes the use the Antiquities Act in Nevada.

“Over the last decade … the Nevada congressional delegation has done groundbreaking work on public land issues,” he said. “Working as a team we have protected millions of acres of wild lands while freeing up other areas that are essential for development and for expanding the economic foundations of our communities … When this kind of process is in place and working well, there is no need for the president to use the Antiquities Act.”

Information from: Elko Daily Free Press