Selective dudgeon by environmentalists over use of national monument land

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This is why they are called spoilsports.

A group calling itself Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is raising a ruckus over plans by the Bureau of Land Management to route a portion of a desert race from Las Vegas to Reno through a short span of the newly minted 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument.

The race, called the General Tire Las Vegas to Reno race, is said to be the longest off-highway race in the country, about 640 miles, and usually has about 300 motorcycles, trucks, dune buggies and assorted all-terrain vehicles competing each year. It has been run annually for 20 years by the Best in the Desert Racing Association. It starts near Alamo, has an overnight stop in Tonopah and ends near Dayton.

“BLM’s race plan makes a mockery out of President Obama’s monument declaration,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in a statement. “BLM is playing fast and loose with its legal obligations in order to let hundreds of vehicles roar through fragile desert before the monument’s protections can be solidified.”

President Obama created the national monument this past July by executive fiat under the authority given to him in the Antiquities Act of 1906, even though the Constitution only empowers Congress to make all rules regarding public land.

A complaint sent to the White House and the Secretary of the Interior by PEER accuses the BLM of flouting the presidential monument proclamation directive that “motorized vehicle use in the monument shall be permitted only on roads existing as of the date of this proclamation.”

The Las Vegas newspaper carried an Associated Press account of the objection, but added that it contacted Basin and Range National Monument manager Alicia Styles, who told the paper the proposed route for the race crosses about 40 miles of the monument — all of it on existing dirt roads.

According to the Federal Register account of the Basin and Range National Monument designation, “Except for emergency or authorized administrative purposes, motorized vehicle use in the monument shall be permitted only on roads existing as of the date of this proclamation.”

So what’s the beef? The road exists now.

So far as we’ve heard, neither PEER nor any other self-styled environmentalists has raised any objections to the paragraph that precedes that statement about existing roads: “Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to limit the authority of the Secretary, under applicable law other than this proclamation, to undertake or authorize activities on public land in the vicinity of the sculpture City for the purpose of preventing harm to the artwork, including activities to improve drainage and to prevent erosion, consistent with the care and management of the objects identified above. The management plan for the monument shall provide for reasonable use of existing roads within the monument to facilitate public access to City.”

Art is good? Sport is bad?

City is just a lot of bulldozed dirt, rocks and concrete that is supposed to be “reminiscent of a ceremonial Mesoamerican city stretching across an expanse of desert nearly the size of the Mall” in Washington. Construction has been going on for nearly 50 years on private land inside what is now a national monument. Some mounds are 80 feet high on a tract more than a mile long and a quarter mile wide.

One of the reasons given by Nevada Sen. Harry Reid in recommending to Obama the creation of the national monument was to provide a buffer to this City “artwork.”

Reid gushed to the Washington Post about seeing the mounds of dirt: “I became a convert. … You have this magnificent work of art that this man spent half a century working on. And that’s quite a story.”

Both Reps. Mark Amodei and Cresent Hardy opposed the monument designation, as have elected officials in Nye and Lincoln counties where the Basin and Range National Monument lies, fearing it would retard economic development.

Though the monument designation specifically requires public access to City, the art is not yet open to the public, just to VIPs like Reid, and its completion date, if ever, is unknown.

Apparently, all those holes and mounds in City do not damage the fragile desert, as PEER calls it, while driving a few bikes and trucks over an existing road for a couple of hours one day a year is devastating.

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at thomasmnv@yahoo.com. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.

 

 

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