My Thoughts on the Gold Butte National Monument Designation
All the talk surrounding Gold Butte the last few weeks has been about its recent designation as National Monument. I would like to say, the controversial designation of Gold Butte, but depending on what circles you run in you may have different feelings on whether it is controversial or commendable. As far as mainstream media reports, you would think that Nevada is unarguably in support of this change in name for Gold Butte. However if you get off the main drag and travel the rural routes, you will find that the opinions of Nevadans are a little more colorful than the whitewashed media may portray. As often is the case, the feelings toward the Monument designations start to change as you approach the city skirts, where urban sprawl starts to fade into the rural roads leading to small town America. I am one of those from small town America who resent and openly oppose Gold Butte being appropriated as a national monument.
National Monuments by design are created to protect historic and prehistoric sites within the lands administered by the Federal Government. The original intent of the Antiquities Act was to protect Native American sites and artifacts. The powers granted to the President of the United States by which a National Monument designation can be created is given through the 1906 Antiquities Act. With an understanding of the intent of a National Monument designation I will try and explain one of my biggest concerns about this designation in my backyard.
Gold Butte is an expansive and diverse landscape delineated by two rivers that mark its boundaries. It is the rugged country between the confluence of the Colorado and Virgin rivers. A wide array of people throughout time have made their mark upon the rugged landscape as they traversed across the natural crossroads in the desert known as Gold Butte. By designating Gold Butte as a Monument it is intentionally prioritizing cultures and history by what today’s values dictate while minimizing others. By administering Gold Butte as a National Monument the history of many of these cultures will slowly be erased and forgotten by the federal land managers as they focus their resources on making a monument based on a single narrative.
There are amazing Native American sites found within Gold Butte however there are also sites that represent other cultures that have traversed the landscape that are just as valued to people that want access to public lands and the history they identify with. The history of our country is tormented by the narrative of the federal government mismanaging the priorities of the masses at the sacrifice of the minority. I agree that it is critical that we protect the Native American sites found within Gold Butte but I also know it is critical to protect, with the same significance, the Pioneer Sites, the Mining Sites, the corrals, the water tanks, the springs, the access to the roads and the camping spots. The allure of what makes Gold Butte interesting is the diversity and the access to explore so many facets of history and geology intertwined upon one accessible landscape. This will be lost over time as the federal government imposes their storyline upon the landscape.
I have had many people ask me what I think will happen, if I think we need to hurry and go out there before it all gets closed off. My answer is no, I don’t think that anything will change in the first little bit. For the first few years I project that the look and feel of Gold Butte will remain the same. It will be in five years after the management plan has been created and administered, as new management comes in and slowly starts to change the feel of what Gold Butte is to what they think it should be. Roads will slowly start to close, camp spots will start to be restricted, family reunions will be curtailed, scout trips will become discouraged and church functions will be turned down. It will be a slow transition for the local communities who have traditionally enjoyed the access of the great outdoors of Gold Butte to deteriorate into yet another restricted federal theme park to be observed through their point of view. The history of cattle ranching will slowly be lost. The history of the early miners who laid the ground work for today’s society that we take for granted will be maligned. The opportunity to camp, four-wheel, picnic and enjoy a day trip with your family will be confined to the fancy of the BLM.
For the masses this won’t be an issue. For the one time visitor who saw a Facebook post from their favorite Wilderness advocacy group and thought it would be a fun visit, they will never know the difference. It is the local communities who pay the price. It is the families that have historic connection to the landscape. It is the scout troops who could have camped and explored. It is the church groups who use to be able to do youth had cart trip but now can’t bear the cost. It is the people who love and know the landscape the best, who love it the most, who appreciate it for what it truly is, who pay the price for generations. It is society at large who lose out on the opportunity to experience hands on history which once is lost, is lost forever.
I love the out of doors, I am an advocate of conservation, I am a lover of history, I want to see the wild places preserved for future generations however there is a right way to carry that out and there is a wrong way. Closing off access to places that have been accessible before is not conservation. To over emphasize one culture while downplaying the other is not beneficial to anyone and will do irreparable damage to both the physically and cultural landscape. The current course of conservation which consists of putting up fences and restricting access is a nonsense agenda peddled by people who don’t understand the human connection with the landscape. I want to see public lands preserved for my children and grandchildren. A national Monument designation is not the best path to ensure Gold Butte is preserved for my grandchildren.
It may be a longshot but I am going to reach out to my local town board and my county commissioner to call for a repeal of the designation. I am going to ask my state assemblymen and senators to show their opposition to this unilateral designation. I will try and make contact with my congressman and senators to look for ways to repeal this executive order which bypassed the public process. If this was the right thing to do then it should have flown through congress by the proper processes and procedures already set in place to preserve public lands. If executive action is the right way to manage lands then why do we have an agency specifically created to manage our public lands? The reason is because this is not the right way to manage public lands. This is not the best way to preserve our history.
There is a group of like-minded people who are working to find ways to fight against this designation if you are interested please reach out and let me know.