Gold Butte represents a broad landscape of rugged terrain with an extensive system of braided shallow washes. These washes contain “caliche caves” often used as burrows by desert tortoise, burrowing owls, and heat tolerant reptiles. Rocky outcrops are home to Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Lion, and Golden Eagle aeries.
Higher mountain “pygmy forests” of Pinion and Juniper are home to many species of birds.
Creosote, bursage, and beavertail cactus dominate the landscape of the lower elevations of the Mojave Desert scrub. This habitat is critical to desert tortoise for burrows among the creosote roots, and for kit fox dens. The rocky slopes are valuable to bighorn sheep. Desert kangaroo rats and pocket mice depend on the creosote seed for food. In turn, they become prey to species of snakes and birds such as the western Diamondback Rattlesnake and the Loggerhead Shrike.
Joshua trees, blackbrush, gambles oak, and manzanita create a mid elevation mixed desert scrub on the upper bajada and higher slopes. The Joshua trees are home to the Scotts Oriole and Desert night lizard. Blackbrush is a valuable browse to bighorn sheep and nesting for Brewers Sparrow. Mid-elevation rocky outcrops are habitat for Ringtails and chuckwalla.
The upper slopes of the mountains have pinion-juniper woodlands mixed with cliffrose and serviceberry. These montane woodlands are generally found between 5,000 and 8,000 feet of elevation. This habitat is particularly important for its structure for birds and bats to use for nesting and roosting. The serviceberry is excellent browse for deer.
The peak of the Virgin Mountains is a unique biological transition zone for the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran regions. The stands of Douglas fir represent the southern most occurrences in Nevada. In addition to Douglas fir there are forests of ponderosa pine and white fir as well as the only known pocket of Arizona Cypress in Nevada.
Presently, there is no on the ground management to protect the biological resources of Gold Butte. There is an empty kiosk as you enter the area. The public is unaware of the status or importance of this area as there are neither posted rules nor education.
The biggest threat is irresponsible off road vehicle use that destroys habitat and cultural resources. ATV’s establish new routes with just a few riders. Areas are identified and cairned to establish these new routes. At Whitney Pockets, what were once a few small camp areas have become large areas that are denuded of vegetation with dozens of fire rings. There are no facilities for this type of heavy visitation and human waste is a problem.
The most alarming trend is the use of live Joshua trees as firewood. Trees older than our constitution are pulled from the ground and branches chopped from those still standing and burned. Yes, it is a renewable resource, but not in our lifetime.