What’s the Purpose of Public Lands?

On February 3rd, 2012, posted in: Advocacy, News by 0 Comment

This week, ahead of Nevada’s Republican presidential caucus, one of the candidates asked what is the purpose of our public lands in Nevada. As someone from the West who has had the pleasure to live in Nevada for the past ten years, I’m happy to shed some light on the issue.

Nevada has some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth but perhaps the best way for me to talk about the purpose of public lands is for me to talk about a specific place that is incredibly special to me, Gold Butte.

Studies have shown that protected public lands are significant contributors to economic growth. A protected Gold Butte, recently named by the Department of Interior as one of America’s “Crown Jewels,” is an ingredient to a prosperous economic future for Nevada.

Our public lands directly benefit Nevada’s economy. From out-of-state tourists to local Nevadans who recreate close to home, all these visitors to our protected public lands spend money, generate jobs and support local communities when they get outdoors. Visitors to Gold Butte are offered a plethora of outdoor recreation opportunities, such as camping, wildlife viewing, hiking, hunting, bird watching, biking and off-roading opportunities with 500 miles of designated 4×4 routes.

These outdoor activities generate enormous economic power. In Nevada, the active outdoor recreation industry contributes $1.8 billion in goods and services and 20,000 jobs to the state’s economy. Conserving our public lands helps safeguard and highlight the amenities that are proven to attract people and business.

Gold Butte is Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon. It’s located between the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument, Arizona, and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, just south of the City of Mesquite. It is 360,000 acres of rugged mountains, Joshua tree and Mojave yucca forests, outcroppings of sandstone, and braided washes that turn into slot canyons. It is places like these where we go to explore the outdoors, seek solitude and renew our spirit.

This area is home to ancient remnants of American Indian rock art that fill the sandstone surfaces with stories not completely understood. The town of Gold Butte is named for the historic mining town and tent city of 1,000 miners in the early 1900’s. Long abandoned, it attracts visitors interested in early pioneer history, ranching and ghost towns.

This history is part of the spirit of the American West. As Americans and as Nevadans, we all have a powerful interest in protecting our public-lands heritage. There is no issue as lasting or as worthy as the preservation of our natural and cultural heritage. Theodore Roosevelt, more than a hundred years ago, put it this way: “We have fallen heir to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

Western voters agree that public lands such as national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are “an essential part” of the economies of the West.  We need to be mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of the public lands so that we can share our unique Western heritage with our children and grand-children.

Susan Holecheck is a former mayor of Mesquite.

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