To the Editor:
At the close of 2016 President Obama’s midnight express rumbled through Nevada and Utah unloading meritless national monuments in defiance of local residents. The president’s action descends from the 1906 Antiquities Act, which is to designate “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” But dedicating 1.3 million acres in southeastern Utah as Bears Ears National Monument and more than 300,000 acres as Gold Butte National Monument (GBNM), are far cries from the legitimate use of monument creation, especially when there had been no meaningful local input and open congressional processes to advise as to size and future use for area residents.
Proponents of GBNM have peppered the dialogue with improbable superlatives. Recent news items describe the area as possessing a “unique cultural history,” an overworked phrase which was also used 15 months ago to enhance the creation of the Basin and Range NM 125 miles north of Las Vegas. (Unique means one of a kind, never two.) Supporters describe GBNP as iconic, an ecologically fragile area to be preserved “for future generations.” Allegedly, GBNM would draw foreign tourists, but with an increase in travel to GBNM would not thefts and other crimes increase as well?
President Obama stated that GBNM was necessary because the area was at risk for vandalism. Ironically, in possessing the new status, Gold Butte’s petroglyphs are more than ever subject to defacement because of virtual lack of BLM patrol. Its sweeping desert vistas and spectacular rock formations, though eye appealing, are no match for the nearby sandstone wonders in the Valley of Fire State Park and those in central Nevada. Thus, GBNM is superfluous.
President Trump should rescind GBNM because the Federal budget has scant funding to hire adequate rangers to safeguard ill-prepared desert venturers who might lack enough water, food and clothing in case of a vehicle breakdown or stuck in sand. Temperatures from May to September often rise perilously to 110-115 degrees. Waiting it out in a stalled vehicle is no place to recall the hype of pro-monument partisans who believe that the area as casual visitor-friendly. It is far from it.
Budgetary concerns also must be addressed. The Alan Bible Visitor Center near Hoover Dam sometimes operates on short weeks because of inadequate funding to staff it. South of Las Vegas, the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area has only a trailer where volunteers stand by to assist visitors. The heightened attention to Sloan Canyon a few years ago attracted young delinquents who defaced a few petroglyphs with spray paint.
About 120 miles north of Las Vegas the Basin & Range National Monument (B&R) was established in 2015, yet it still has no permanent BLM patrol to protect three fine petroglyphs sites, the Narrows, the Shooting Gallery, and the Mt. Irish Archaeological site. The latter has picnic tables, a privy, informational markers, and a post holding pamphlets describing the site. B&R’s shady creation was strictly a political ploy by Sen. Harry Reid to prevent a railroad from being built from nearby Caliente westward to Yucca Mountain as the final leg to deliver spent fuel rods from the nation’s nuclear power plants.
The sites within GBNM consist of three insignificant ghost towns whose nearby mines never panned out, with metal production of less than $60,000 according to mining statistics compilers Couch and Carpenter. These sites display little more than foundations.
Indeed, GBNM boasts of significant rock art panels, but only one can be reached by pavement—Whitney Pockets. Nearby, Falling Man is hidden away, as is Newspaper Rock, accessible by trail.
West of these is Kohta Circus, where the visitor drives through sand perhaps until he possibly gets stuck before reaching a dazzling panel of rock art. It is exceptional; the other petroglyphs found in GBNM are duplicated many times over elsewhere. Westerly from there is Sheep Rock, where about twenty nose-to-tail sheep parade across a panel.
South of Whitney Pockets alongside the Gold Butte road is Devil’s Throat, the site of a fenced off geological sinkhole. South and west of there is Fin-land (informally the “Devil’s Garden”) consisting of numerous miniature sandstone formations which can be easily removed, even as cave seekers might enter a newly found one and bust off a portion of a stalagmite as a souvenir. There, scorpions hiding in crevices are guaranteed! Petroglyphs in the Valley of Fire, Death Valley and in northern Arizona are far more satisfying, thus monument protection is not required for Gold Butte.
GBNM has only one narrow county road protruding into it—a twisty, auto pathway of asphalt, gravel and potholes. Thereafter, all area byways are mostly geared for 4-wheelers. Why are 300,000 acres of real estate needed to preserve a few sites of interest? Creation of the primitive GBNM was ill advised because much of the area is already protected as part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Lime Canyon and Jumbo Springs wilderness areas.
The GBNM is situated far from amenities—more than 30 miles from the city conveniences of Mesquite on I-15. Proponents say that GBNP will attain an economic potential and visitation to the tune of nearly a $3 million annual benefit for the area. But how? No responsible economist would suggest this. Nevada Congressman Ruben Kihuen also blunders by stating that the new monument is ‘”Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon,” though clearly it is not because the canyons adjacent to the nearby Colorado River pinch out 18 miles east of the Nevada-Arizona border. Other misconceptions have been passed on by GBNM zealots who obviously have never set foot on GBNM.
The new national monument contains no unique biological species or endangered wildlife within its boundaries, and its petroglyphs are exceeded by those in the Valley of Fire, Death Valley, and in northern Arizona desert areas. The 1906 Antiquities Act was not intended to land grab and create at will national monuments to a president’s legacy. The Antiquities Act was initially established to protect such sites as Colorado’s Mesa Verde, where scavengers were stealing pots and tools and selling them on the black market. No president has abused the Act as Obama has as in the creation of GBNM.
Stanley W. Paher, Reno
Paher is the author of a Nevada desert atlas with 2,200 place names and is also a field researcher for Benchmark maps.