Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Partners in Conservation - Counter proposal to ‘Gold Butte NCA’

Partners in Conservation (PIC) is an organization that is dedicated to help protect our beautiful desert landscapes. They come to the table with a commonsense approach to public lands and responsible stewardship. PIC’s vision is to be a lasting, permanent, and significant factor in enabling citizens of rural Nevada and the West to take an active role in public lands, conservation and recreational issues. and PIC share the common goal of protection with access to our public lands.

In response to Berkley’s proposed legislation in 2008 Elise McAllister, the administrator of PIC, drafted their counter-proposal to the Gold Butte NCA legislation. This document is filled with a lot of constructive information and reflects the values that many of us who enjoy the area want to see in the future management of Gold Butte.

Rural Community’s Essential Elements to Conservation Component Of Mesquite Land Bill – Counter proposal to ‘Gold Butte NCA’

The language of the bill shall include:


Transportation Plan:
Incorporate in its entirety the “Final Environmental Assessment (Alternative D for the Transportation Plan in selected ACECs located in the Northeast Portion of Clark County” into the Conservation component, meaning all roads designated as Open in the above referenced plan (as this plan has already gone through an intensive 4-5 year public process) shall be managed as Open and the attending management plan shall contain language guaranteeing that the above referenced plan is the overriding legally binding document relating to all roads in the Gold Butte NCA area. Regarding any emergency action or any other action that seeks to close any road or portion of road, either temporarily or permanently, such action must be presented to the Mesquite City Council, the Bunkerville Town Advisory Board, the Moapa Valley Town Advisory Board, and the Moapa Town Advisory Board, as well as the Clark County Commissioners and the Ad Hoc Local Management Plan Citizen’s Advisory Committee. All above entities reserve the right to protest and appeal any road closure action, emergency or otherwise, temporary or permanent.

The BLM and the Ad Hoc Local Management Plan Citizen’s Advisory Committee shall include in the management plan, language to ensure protection for all BLM determined important cultural resources by providing proximity protection in the form of limiting motorized access to such BLM determined important cultural resources. Such proximity protection shall under no condition, close portions of roads to those said resources more than ½ mile back from such resources. Such proximity protection closures of ½ mile or less of roads must have a small parking area at the end of the road to allow enough space for adequate parking and turning around. (See protection clause for additional details)

Management Plan:
A Permanent Ad Hoc Local Management Plan Citizen’s Advisory Committee, hereafter referred to as the ‘Committee’ shall be formed after this bill is signed into law, before any management plan work is begun, and the following seats will be permanent: A citizen appointed by each of the 4 local governments, Mesquite City Council (1), Bunkerville Town Advisory Board (1), Moapa Valley Town Advisory Board (1), and Moapa Town Advisory Board (1), a representative from Partners in Conservation (1), a representative from Friends of Gold Butte or a preservation/wilderness advocate group (1), a representative from the northeast Clark County’s liaison’s office (1), a representative from the Moapa Tribe of Paiutes (1), a local representative from the motorized recreation community (1), a local representative from the non-motorized recreation community, and a local representative from a historical organization or museum. This Committee will work directly with the BLM and the public to create a management plan.

Master Plan:
A master plan shall be developed and be included in the management plan; the master plan will be under the direction of the Committee and will center around intensive public involvement. The following items, plus any other items suggested by the Committee or the Public, shall be seriously considered for the master plan:
Whitney Pockets semi-developed campground
primitive campground
Parking areas
RV campground
Assorted trails

The desired outcome of the Master Plan, after intensive public involvement and approval by all relevant agencies, is a Master Plan that will provide guidance and direction for all regions and facilities in the Gold Butte NCA area so that the public will have needed facilities and usage opportunities, the BLM will have designated facilities that will enable better management and enforcement, and the resources will have better protection as a master plan defines, manages, and controls use of the NCA area.

Ratio of increased population to recreational needs:
The management plan will include a ‘fluidity’ clause wherein increased population that will result in increased usage will be factored into the management plan, with the end result being increased facilities and opportunities to match increased population and usage. As populations and usage increases it is NOT acceptable to decrease or even maintain current levels of facilities and opportunities. The Committee will develop appropriate future plans, detailed in the management plan and master plan, based on population increases that will provide a fluidity to recreation opportunities and facilities. This is a critical element in this and all future public land bills because more and more public land is being transferred out of the ‘multiple use’ category and becomes land for solar and wind energy development, other development, and/or is closed or restricted for a variety of reasons. These designations decrease the multiple use category and are therefore not available to an increased population to enjoy and recreate on.

As recreation is a mandated use for BLM managed public land, as the population grows in the west, and as more people want to use our public land, it is absolutely necessary to plan and manage public lands to allow for increased use. THE PUBLIC CANNOT BE GIVEN LESS AND LESS LAND FOR RECREATION AND MULTIPLE USE WHILE THE POPULATION AND USAGE GROWS—MORE PEOPLE ON LESS LAND WILL NEGATIVELY IMPACT MORE RESOURCES THAN ANY OTHER REASON. Therefore, the language in this bill and the management plan must include avenues to allow and provide for increased use—a ‘fluidity clause’.

Water Conservation:
Water conservation shall be integral to the conservation component and insomuch as water contributes to the climate and ecology of Gold Butte, the following conservation actions shall take place:
1. Tamarisk removal and appropriate restoration techniques will occur on the Nevada portion of the Virgin River, the Muddy River, and the Nevada portion of the Colorado River and Lake Mead.
2. A Virgin River Wetlands Park, Trails, Natural Area, and Education and Research Center will be constructed, managed, and maintained.
3. Other noxious weeds that contribute negatively to water conservation and the habitats of the Gold Butte area will be removed.

Wildlife and Habitat Improvements:
Mining and Ranching water improvements will be maintained and enhanced in an expeditious manner so that water once used for the economic traditions of mining and ranching will now benefit wildlife and surrounding habitat. Water developments will not be allowed to deteriorate and disappear off the landscape; all water developments will be preserved, maintained and enhanced for beneficial use.

Spring development and enhancement will occur for the obvious benefit to wildlife and habitat. Springs will not be fenced off to prevent wildlife and humans from enjoying the wonders of these small oases in the Mojave Desert.

Community Involvement:
The local Gateway Communities and all willing participants, groups or individuals, will be encouraged to actively participate in the many activities and projects that need to occur in the Gold Butte area. Stewardship, volunteerism, community involvement, and public participation will be an integral part of the management plan and this active involvement by the public will be an ongoing priority. The public will assist the BLM in the active management and improvement of the Gold Butte area.

Socio/Economic/Political Values:
The values of traditional use, responsible recreation, humans connecting with their public land, conserving cultural, historical, and natural resources, wildlife and habitat improvement, and active public involvement will be the guiding factors in this NCA and will be written into the management plan as such. All actions in the management plan, all directives, all regulations, all priorities, and all goals will be directly associated with the values that this NCA was created to uphold and protect.

The Value of Traditional Use is a valued resource to local communities much as the gathering of traditional and medicinal plants is a value to the Moapa Band of Paiutes. Ancestors used the area and as such, various end destinations, routes, areas, and features hold irreplaceable value to descendants and local residents. The ability to visit a place often used or frequented in the past, to share stories with your children, to ponder the harshness of mining life or the difficulty raising cattle in a dry year are important traditional uses to the rural communities; therefore the Value of Traditional Use must be a value this NCA addresses and protects, and its accompanying management plan must manage to protect this value, just as it protects other values.

The Value of Responsible Recreation is a valued resource to many citizens; additionally this value provides the benefit and financial value of additional monies spent in local communities, the economic benefit of increased taxes for government entities, and the increased economic benefit of additional monies spent at businesses in the direct and indirect recreational and tourist related markets. The value of Responsible Recreation is essential in a time when multiple use public land is fast disappearing from the landscape due to land use restrictions, solar and wind energy projects, as well as other energy and utility projects, including utility corridors. The Value of Responsible Recreation must be a value this NCA addresses and protects, and its accompanying management plan must manage to protect this value, just as it protects other values.

The Value of People Connecting with Their Land is an inherent value to the rural communities with roots tracing back to our earliest ancestors. Boy Scouts and other groups incorporate this concept into their teachings and outings and their ability to access the land must be maintained. Local church groups re-enact the handcart journey of their ancestors and help teenagers understand their history and the intimate relationship that humans once had with the land. This value is in danger of being lost as modern life and modern amenities replace the once everyday routine of interacting with the land. This value and the activities that help maintain this value must be addressed and protected by this NCA, and its accompanying management plan must manage to protect this value and associated activities just as it protects other values.

The Value of Protecting Cultural, Historical, and Natural Resources is a value that previous NCAs always manage for. This NCA is no exception; cultural, historical, and natural values need to be values that this NCA addresses and protects, and its accompanying management plan must manage to protect such, just as it protects other values.

The Value of Wildlife and Habitat Improvement is another value traditionally held by rural communities. The lack of water and the impact that has on wildlife and plant life was a factor in everyday life to the residents of Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley. Many of them earned a living from ranching and farming, most hunted and utilized the eatable parts of plants to aid in their survival and well being. Even in recreation, residents sought out riparian areas--greener and with an abundance of life, to spend a relaxing afternoon picnic with family and friends. The value of wildlife and habitat improvement---enhancing what exists in nature for the betterment of wildlife and plant life, and thus for humans is a critical value that must be protected. The ability for people to access their public land to aid in that betterment is a value that rural residents find harder and harder to protect with increasing restrictions and land use designations; therefore, this value and the activities that help maintain this value must be addressed and protected by this NCA, and its accompanying management plan must manage to protect this value and associated activities just as it protects other values.

The Value of Active Public Involvement is a value that provides direct benefits to the resources of the Gold Butte NCA. Public Involvement used to be a spontaneous activity, instigated by a resident upon seeing something that needed to be done. Active involvement promotes ownership and creates personal stewardship in an area once people have participated in a project. Residents in the gateway communities have traditionally participated in many projects that enhance or protect the resources and habitat of public land around the communities. Youth, in particular, are deeply involved in such projects; this involvement can be the catalyst that leads to a lifetime of active conservation or even a career in a related field. The value of public involvement is often appreciated and applauded, but rarely protected. It is more important than ever, with less people feeling a need to get involved, to elevate the value of public involvement to a status wherein proper funding and personnel time can ensure its importance. The Value of Active Public Involvement must be addressed and protected by this NCA and its accompanying management plan must manage to protect this value and associated activities just as it protects other values.

Cultural resources
Cultural resources are part of the treasure of Gold Butte and need to be afforded some level of protection against thoughtless and illegal trespasses. The BLM, working with the Ad Hoc Local Management Plan Citizen’s Advisory Committee, shall determine appropriate barriers, such as ending roads, natural barriers such as boulders or post and cable fencing to prevent motorized use from getting too close to the resource, or other protective devices for the cultural resources areas identified in the Cultural Resource ACECs. Cultural resources outside of the ACEC may also qualify for appropriate barriers and additional protection. Barriers to ‘end roads’ shall not occur more than ½ mile from the actual resource if it is on a road that ‘ends’ at the resource and where the barrier is erected, a parking lot with sufficient room to turn around, etc. shall be provided.

For cultural resources wherein a road passes nearby but continues on, re-routing of that road would provide protection for the resource. Additionally, barriers, fencing, etc. can be erected to protect the resource, but not to close that road. . In all cases, using natural barriers should be the highest priority as natural barriers blend with the environment and provide a much more positive user experience than fencing and other obvious ‘keep people out’ barriers. Positive reinforcement and positive messages should always be used. The public must be treated like welcome owners, not as unwanted trespassers. Positive and extensive education must be a component that accompanies any type of barrier restriction or protection.

Historical resources
Historical resources around the Gold Butte Township site shall be protected by the designation of a Historical District. Natural barriers, if at all possible, and fencing, if necessary, can occur near sites to prevent motorized vehicles from getting too close to a resource, but roads cannot be closed. Positive reinforcement and positive messages should always be used and extensive education must be a component that accompanies any type of barrier or protection.

Mines, corrals, other mining, ranching, or settlement features and any other historical features on the landscape outside of the Historical District may also be protected by natural barriers and education, notwithstanding no closure of roads to do so.

John Lear should be consulted on all historic issues in the area; his research is widely acclaimed as incredibly thorough and accurate and his historical documents and findings should be preserved as part of the Historical District management plans.

The entire Gold Butte area underwent a public process in 2002, from which several wilderness areas were created. It should be noted that the BLM only recommended 13,895 acres of land in Lime Canyon be designated as wilderness. The BLM’s research and documentation did not show that any other area in the 350,000 (approximately) acres fit wilderness definitions or had sufficient wilderness characteristics in 2002.

If additional use of the Gold Butte area is one of the reasons why additional protection is needed in the area, then clearly, no area since 2002 could now qualify as wilderness which did not qualify for wilderness in 2002. The imprint of man is across the entire Gold Butte landscape and has been so since the area was first mined and ranched. Therefore, no additional areas qualify for wilderness.

However, since some believe more wilderness designation is necessary, the Million Hills Instant Study Area could be designated as wilderness PROVIDED: ALL roads are cherry-stemmed in and the end of roads have a sufficient buffer to allow parking, turning around, picnicking, and camping, AND the top of Virgin Mountain i.e., the Virgin Mountain Instant Study Area is released from all wilderness designations and the roads are returned to usable condition, i.e., designated ‘Open’. Springs and sensitive habitat in the Virgin Mountain Instant Study Area may be protected by barriers or other means as long as historical and traditional access is not restricted.

Sensitive Habitat and/or federal and state endangered or threatened listed species
The Desert Conservation Program, through their land use designations, permit conditions, and identified 640 Conservation Actions and the BLM, through their ACECs and specific management actions and regulations for sensitive habitat and listed endangered or threatened species, both adequately cover the issues of sensitive habitat and species protection. Provisions are provided for entities to challenge either entity if they are not doing their legal obligations to the species and habitat. Nevertheless, some may feel more protection is needed; therefore, the BLM, in conjunction with the Committee, may consider other protections so long as traditional access is not restricted and traditional, pre-1998 roads are not closed. Cryptobiotic soil may be protected by fencing, barriers, and extensive education, small, specific areas may be provided an additional level of protection be designating small, specific areas as Sensitive Habitat. These processes must be done through the Committee and must include extensive education utilizing positive reinforcement and positive messages.

Education and Information:
The necessity of adding an education and information clause to the Gold Butte NCA bill and management plan is not because the rural residents think education and information won’t take place, this clause is added to ensure that education and information is addressed and managed correctly—that being in a positive and welcoming fashion. Rural communities are long tired of being told ‘no’, ‘don’t go here’, ‘don’t do this’; instead positive messages, providing REASONS why certain management actions need to be taken is needed. The public cares and wants to know more about its public land and how it is managed; education and information should provide such. Respect and protection of resources can be obtained by providing residents with information. For example, the public, as a whole, does not understand and therefore dismisses and does not care about Cryptobiotic soil. Education and information about this subject would assist the public in understanding the concerns land management agencies have regarding this issue.

Education and information should contain active components of site stewardship, recreation stewardship, campground hosts, event hosts, eyes and ears, and any other opportunity to actively involve and engage the public on the ground. The public, while not on public land, is trusted with behaving responsibly; those same people are the ones enjoying an ATV ride, camping overnight, taking a hike, etc. The public desires to behave responsibly; having citizens discuss issues and REASONS for regulations with each other will provide a level of informed and appropriately behaving citizenry on public land that will result in positive benefits to the resources, habitat, and wildlife. Law enforcement officers are needed for the small percentage of the public that chooses to break the law; the vast majority of the public are law abiding, should be treated as such, and should be actively involved in helping each other understand the nuances of how regulations and the management of public lands affects how, where, why, and when they can enjoy their public lands.