Friends of Gold Butte (FOGB) and Sierra Club hosted a “Citizen’s Hearing for the Gold Butte National Monument” at Highland Estates Resort Hotel in Mesquite on June 27. The two organizations are concerned that the BLM has excluded public comment on Gold Butte National Monument in drafting a revised resource management plan for public lands in Southern Nevada. A Southern Nevada draft plan is due to be submitted to the Interior Department this fall, but FOGB mantains that Gold Butte management remains in limbo without public input on how “Gold Butte National Monument should be managed in order to maintain preservation of natural and cultural treasures and ensure access to the Monument.”
Informational materials and maps were provided by Sierra Club representative, Christian Gerlach, who was on hand to answer questions for the roughly 25 people attending the meeting. FOGB provided comment sheets and stood ready to film any individual who wanted to record a comment on video. Jaina Moan, Executive Director of FOGB, opened the meeting by stating that the meeting was not under official BLM auspices. She stated that all comments collected by means of the FOGB-authored comment sheet would be sent to the BLM, but she could not guarantee that the BLM would utilize the unofficially-gathered input as it works to build a management plan for the Monument. The meeting organizers have previously stated that the BLM has left itself “open to litigation,” if it fails to follow accepted public opinion scoping protocol in developing a resource management plan (RMP).
Stating a need for a monument management plan, Moan asked for comments and questions from the audience. The crowd proceeded to voice a spectrum of opinions on the subject. But unlike past BLM-hosted meetings on monument formation and management where shouting matches and anger boiled over, this crowd maintained a level of decorum and generally listened quietly to sparring opinions.
Ryan Bundy, son of rancher Cliven Bundy of Bunkerville and current candidate for Governor, rose to state that he viewed the monument itself to be unlawful. He states its federal oversight is not allowed by the U.S. Constitution, and its size oversteps the intent of the Antiquities Act that calls for protection of items of cultural heritage. Later in the meeting, Cliven Bundy himself stated that his one intent in attending the meeting was to collect information on those “adders and abettors of the illegal creation of the Monument.” He has disputed the BLM for years over Gold Butte area grazing rights.
Steering the discussion back to its original intent of focus on management issues, Moan suggested one of her “top three” goals of managing Gold Butte would be the provision of toilet facilities at the Whitney Pockets camping area, since the monument is entirely without services.
Moan’s comment prompted a response from Tillman Hafen, who feels that local action is preferable in Gold Butte to cut the “red tape” of government control that takes years to even provide basic facilities. Hafen continued to defend the premise of local management throughout the meeting. Another person in the audience alluded to the need for federal leadership to initiate action. “If leaders say this is what we want, it gets done.”
Mesquite City Councilman Dave Ballweg asserted need to guarantee local access to historic rights to resources. He said the City of Mesquite supports the Virgin Valley Water District access to its state-recognized water rights. VVWD asked for boundary reduction to place water sources held by the district outside the monument. Saying that ambiguous monument proclamation language opened access rights to interpretation, VVWD called for reduction of monument size in 2017, a request that has yet to be answered by the federal government.
Members of the audience blamed layers of government bureaucracy for inaction. Concern for vehicle access and questions of road maintenance were voiced. Several pointed to the need to work together to make the monument the best it can be. All speakers supported preservation of antiquities and respectful use of the area.
Karma Grayman, an employee in the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument and member of the Shivwits Paiute tribe, stated concern that Native American interests are sometimes overlooked or ignored in formation of public lands management policies. Others noted that Grand Canyon National Park and other Park Service-administered areas curtail vehicular traffic and roads, and minimal facilities are provided on a “take it in, take it out” principal.
Moan wrapped up the meeting by again urging the audience to submit their comment sheets. The comment form, which is available on the friendsofgoldbutte.org website, opens with a statement of FOGB views on monument management and guides comment to five topics: appropriate recreation uses; development of recreation facilities; means of ensuring protection of culturally significant areas for the Paiutes; public education on areas of environmental critical concern (ACEC); and management of areas with wilderness characteristics.
The Bureau of Land Management Las Vegas Field Office is the designated land manager for the Gold Butte National Monument. The BLM is located at 4701 North Torrey Pines, Las Vegas, 89130, phone: 702-515-5000, website: firstname.lastname@example.org.