The dialog surrounding Gold Butte over the last few years has focused on the goal of designating Gold Butte as a National Conservation Area (NCA). The tactics and rational as to why this particular designation would be the answer to all the woes that face Gold Butte has evolved and changed, depending on the audience, but the NCA designation continues to be a roadblock to any other conversation.
In the spring of 2010 I had the opportunity to meet with the director of the BLM, Robert Abbey and visit Gold Butte with him and other community and political leaders. Standing around the graves of Art Coleman and William Garret, Director Abbey touted the benefits of the NCA as a way to share Gold Butte with a larger community and gain national recognition for Gold Butte. During the summer of 2011 I had the opportunity to meet Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes where he echoed the opinion that Gold Butte was deserving of national recognition. Recently Caesars Entertainment and other corporations and businesses, far removed from the conversation and lack adequate knowledge of the situation, have added their support for a nationally recognized Gold Butte. Special interest, political appointees and big business agree that an NCA is the way to achieve this recognition.
The problem with the logic that Gold Butte deservers more recognition is that it blatantly ignores the fact that Gold Butte does not currently have the infrastructure or the management plan in place to adequately manage the influx of visitors that will come with national recognition. Recognition and even funding don’t solve many of the problems that face our public lands. Look at Red Rock NCA. It still experiences extreme cases of vandalism and carries the same designation sought for Gold Butte. A bureaucratic designation does not solve the problems that face our public lands, it exacerbates them. The simple fact that the people who are calling for this designation are the same people complaining that Gold Butte is not adequately managed clearly illustrates that they either have an ulterior motive, which is not the long term success of our public lands, or that they are blinded by their own ambition and fail to see the contradiction of their own arguments. Recognition does not equal protection.
We cannot pretend that we can keep Gold Butte to ourselves or hide it from those who enjoy the diverse recreational opportunities that are available within the Gold Butte area. However we can also not ignore the fact there are risks associated with a national designation and increased usage without the proper framework in place before that designation. The short term economic benefits that may possibly come with a national designation will be negated in the long term if this agenda is rushed and the risks that accompany higher usage are not properly addressed. Without having adequate planning, proper management and the infrastructure in place before there is increased usage the outcome will work only to complicate and intensify any problems that are currently experienced in the Gold Butte area. Reckless recognition will result in increased damage which will then be followed by restrictions and a loss of access to our public lands thereby invalidating the original intent of the designation. An actively involved community working together with the land managing agencies creates and provides protection, not bureaucratic designations.