It was long on complaints and short on answers when officials from the Bureau of Land Management Las Vegas office held a town hall meeting in Mesquite Thursday, Feb. 9 to explain ramifications associated with a recent presidential proclamation making the Gold Butte region south of Bunkerville a national monument.
Three officials from the Las Vegas BLM office addressed the overflow crowd in Mesquite City Hall for almost two hours. Tim Smith, BLM southern Nevada district manager, Gayle Marrs-Smith, BLM Las Vegas field office manager and Lee Kirk, acting Gold Butte National Monument (GBNM) manager provided a brief update at the beginning saying they were waiting on guidance from Washington D.C. on two important actions required in the proclamation. An advisory committee comprised of local representatives is required by the proclamation language to assist BLM managers in constructing the second action, a resource management plan (RMP).
The RMP will spell out management actions associated with GBNM regarding road maintenance and restrictions, signage, security, and future operations of the region. According to federal rules the RMP must be completed within three years of the designation date.
Because of the recent changes in federal administration at the Department of Interior, under which the BLM falls, information and guidance on the committee and RMP have been delayed the officials said. While there is no timeline for establishing either action, Marrs-Smith said notifications will be published in the national Federal Registry and distributed to the public when the Las Vegas office receives them.
Marrs-Smith also said no funds had been designated to support the newly-minted national monument although the official designation now makes grant funding applications possible.
When asked about increasing safety features within the approximately 300,000-acre area, Marrs-Smith said there was no concrete plans in place. John Asselin, Public Affairs Officer for the BLM Las Vegas office, said people need to plan ahead before they venture into the area and take plenty of water and appropriate clothing. Also, he said people need to be aware that cell phone service in the area is spotty at best and to let others know where they are headed.
After years of trying to get the U.S. Congress to declare the vast swath of land a National Conservation Area, former President Barack Obama declared the region a national monument on Dec. 28 just weeks before he and proponent U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) left their respective elected offices.
After the short presentation, the triad of BLM officials, joined briefly by Mesquite Mayor Al Litman, took questions and comments from the audience. That began the free-for-all that did little to assuage concerns from either side of the issue – those who support the monument designation and those who don’t.
Several vocal supporters of Cliven Bundy, the rancher who is held in federal custody pending trial over a 2014 standoff with the BLM in the region, held signs and complained loudly against what they saw as an unfair and unlawful takeover of land by the federal government.
Others against the monument designation complained about the possibility of roads being closed to vehicles, primarily all-terrain vehicles, citing past BLM actions in other monuments and conservation areas. Marrs-Smith said the 600 miles of roads in GBNM now open will remain open under the RMP.
Those who supported the national monument designation were vocal about the need for funding and improvements in the GBNM area and the lack of support from the federal government to make upgrades.
Not all complaints and bitter dialogue were directed at the BLM officials as several members of the audience argued among themselves during the meeting. Six police officers from the Mesquite Police Department roamed the audience and hallways to calm the most vocal attendees and ensure there were no severe confrontations among the audience.