Friday, March 26, 2010

An NCA for Gold Butte?

Many people and political factions believe that the problem with Gold Butte, is that it is not being effectively managed. Currently the public lands in the Gold Butte area are under the administration of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Before we jump to conclusions about the BLM, I must admit as my own opinion, that the BLM is underfunded and over tasked. Over 80 percent of all lands in Nevada are owned by the Federal Government and the BLM is charged with managing a large majority of that land. This is no doubt a daunting task. However, my family has had our own struggles with the BLM and our grazing rights, so I understand that there is another side to the story.

At this time, many of the more extreme environmental groups and those who are politically motivated, believe that the best solutions for Gold Butte is to be designated as a National Conservation Area (NCA). There are also talks about designating Gold Butte as a National Monument but that deserves and requires its own separate discussion.

The National Conservation Area (NCA) was created under the larger umbrella of the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This system was created in 2000. The NLCS mission statement is to, “conserve, protect and restore nationally significant landscapes recognized for their outstanding cultural, ecological and scientific values.” Because an NCA would remain under the umbrella of the BLM, we are lead to believe that through legislative action the Gold Butte area will receive additional funding.

Currently there are 16 designated NCAs in the United States, three of them being in Nevada: Black Rock Desert (799,165 acres), Red Rock (195,819 acres), and Sloan Canyon (48,438 acres). Within the entire NLCS there is approximately 27 million acres.

When working toward resolving any conflict, the pros and cons must be taken into account. One of the positive things about an NCA is that there would be elevated protection for the area within the designation. However, it takes an act of congress to designate an NCA, so the legislation can get written to fulfill any political agenda that the congressional sponsor may have. This also means that any political faction that is well funded or well connected can greatly influence the legislations direction.  Another thing to keep in mind is that an NCA is not a substitute or replacement for a Wilderness Area. Often times NCAs contain Wilderness Areas.

If the NCA designation really is the direction that the Gold Butte area is headed, we need to ensure that the historical uses of the land are written into the legislation. In previous NCA designations, uses such as grazing have been listed as a statutory use and value of the area. If we can build these same types of protections for our existing roads, camping areas, hunting and wildlife management and other historical uses that are important to the community, then a consensus may be reached.

Conservation is an important way to help protect our most valuable cultural and natural resources for our future generations; however this is not done by limiting access. Protection with access to our public lands is key for a successful management plan to the Gold Butte Area.