July 10, 2017
Secretary Ryan Zinke
U.S. Department of Interior
1849 C St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20240
Re: Monument Review, DOI-2017-0002-0001
Dear Secretary Zinke,
In response to your call for comments regarding National Monuments, please accept this submission from the Friends of Gold Butte.
We are one of several local groups who, for the past fifteen years, have been seeking permanent protection for the Gold Butte area. We contend that Gold Butte should remain a National Monument, in its entirety, 296,937 acres. Gold Butte needs and deserves the National Monument designation and the Antiquities Act was used appropriately. Nevadans have been asking for protections for many years. As such, conserving Gold Butte has been a subject of public discourse in communities surrounding the area for over a decade. The current boundaries reflect years of compromise and there is no need or reason to reduce them. Finally, the monument designation for Gold Butte offers a sustaining economic opportunity for the City of Mesquite and surrounding communities.
Gold Butte Needs and Deserves National Monument Designation
Located in southeastern Nevada, the Gold Butte National Monument is a treasure trove of cultural, historic, and natural wonders. These wonders include thousands of petroglyphs; historic mining- and pioneer-era artifacts; rare and threatened wildlife such as the Mojave Desert tortoise and desert bighorn sheep; dramatic geologic features like sculpted red sandstone and slot canyons; fossil track-sites from two different periods of geologic history, dating 170-180 million and 270 million years ago, respectively; and unique geologic features, such as a large sinkhole called Devil’s Throat.
Gold Butte is special. Our collective human heritage is written across this landscape–whether it be in the rock stories etched into the walls, or the pioneer-era corrals and mine equipment scattered throughout the land. In Gold Butte, we can explore this museum and connect with our history.
Gold Butte has significant scientific value. The geologic history that is exposed here spans over 500 million years. Today, five life zones thrive along the
elevation gradient within the Monument, each with its own rich biodiversity and include habitats that are critical to the survival of threatened and endangered species. As an example, the rocks exposed in the Virgin Mountains have incredible invertebrate fossils from a Devonian-era sea and the upper slopes and canyons of the Virgin mountains host living populations of Douglas Fir; a remnant from an ancient Pleistocene forest and the only one of its kind in the desert of southern Nevada. One can explore these phenomena in different ways at different places in Gold Butte to gain an understanding of the complete story of our natural history. Gold Butte is an outdoor laboratory with active investigations on the effects of fire to native plant regeneration, climate resiliency in the Mojave Desert, and the viability of Gold Butte springs for preserving the relict leopard frog.
The significance of Gold Butte to Southern Paiute (Nuwuvi) people cannot be understated. Gold Butte is the ancestral territory of the Moapa Band of Paiutes and remains a traditional lifeway for contemporary tribal members. The land encompassed by Gold Butte, Basin and Range, and Bears Ears National Monuments is described in the traditional Salt Songs, which are sung in the Paiute language to guide the spirits of those who have passed away. The songs are deeply connected with the land. Vivienne Jake of the Kaibab Paiute tribe describe the Salt Songs as “a cultural and spiritual bond between the Nuwuvi and the land, and represent a renewal and a healing spiritual journey.” Included in the attached supporting materials to this letter are maps of the traditional territories and the sacred Salt Song Trail. The National Monument designation honors and protects this cultural heritage. The Moapa Band of Paiutes and other Southern Paiute nations need to have a meaningful role in shaping the management plan for the area.
Gold Butte National Monument is an amazing place open to multiple uses where people can experience the great outdoors through hiking, hunting, birding, camping, OHV riding on legal roads and routes, and traditional tribal uses. Recreation and conservation are the primary uses in Gold Butte. The monument designation will enhance the visitor experience for the many uses this land supports and at the same time provide management considerations for the natural and cultural treasures found there.
Protecting Gold Butte—A Subject of Public Discourse for Over a Decade
Concerned citizens and advocates worked to protect Gold Butte for over 15 years. In early 2003, Friends of Gold Butte was formed to bring together advocates who were fighting for the area’s permanent protection. In 2009, 2010, and 2015, the Mesquite City Council passed resolutions supporting preservation of the natural and cultural resources in Gold Butte. The Clark County Commission, Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, and Moapa Band of Paiutes also approved resolutions of support in 2010. That same year, over 25 local community organizations and several Mesquite businesses wrote letters to their congressional delegation with pleas to protect our heritage in Gold Butte.
For many years, we worked with our congressional leaders to achieve a National Conservation Area designation for the land. The legislative history for protecting Gold Butte began in 2002 with the Clark County Conservation of Public Lands and Natural Resources Act, which protected 27,600 acres of land as wilderness (out of 348,241 acres proposed). Since only a fraction of proposed wilderness was designated, efforts to conserve Gold Butte continued. Starting in 2008, Nevada representatives introduced legislation to permanently protect Gold Butte. Overall, five bills were introduced over the next seven years as follows: Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (H.R. 7132, 9/28/2008), Congressman Steven Horsford (H.R. 2276, 6/6/2013), Congresswoman Titus (H.R. 856, 2/10/2015), and Senator Harry Reid (S.. 1054, 5/23/2013 and S. 199, 1/20/2015). Each time, the proposed bills reflected community negotiations and compromise. Despite broad public support for the bills at each introduction, Congress failed to act.
Department of Interior officials heard public comment about Gold Butte in two separate meetings. In 2010, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes held the first public DOI meeting in Gold Butte. Many local citizens attended. Mr. Hayes answered tough questions about water rights, grazing, and motorized access to roads and trails. In the end, most people agreed that Gold Butte needed and deserved protection. In February 2015, the Deputy Secretary of Interior Michael Connor heard public comment for Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments in Las Vegas with over 300 southern Nevadans in attendance.
Throughout the years, residents in southern Nevadans demonstrated consistent and overwhelming support for protecting Gold Butte. Polls conducted in 2012, and 2017 reported that over 63% Nevadans across party lines, supported a National Conservation Area or National Monument designation for the area. Poll summaries are included in the supporting materials attachment.
By 2016, the need to protect Gold Butte was becoming increasingly urgent. The Friends of Gold Butte published two reports documenting extensive damage to the natural and cultural resources on the land including vandalism to rock walls, looting of historical sites, vandalism to signs and fences, vehicle incursions across pristine desert near sacred cultural sites, and a non-permitted water system that trenched across 22 miles of pristine desert tortoise habitat. Executive summaries for both reports are included in the supporting materials attachment.
Because of the long delay in Congress to hear our concerns about the Gold Butte area and because of the increasing urgency to protect the land, in 2016, we asked President Obama to designate Gold Butte a National Monument using the Antiquities Act. This request was supported by a broad and diverse group of people and organizations including: 37 elected officials (14 local, 16 state, 7 federal), 4 recognized Native American tribes, 5 business and tourism organizations, 61 businesses, 20 community groups, and 25 conservation and recreation organizations. Included in the attachment of supporting materials is the list of support letters we received for Gold Butte National Monument between 2015 and 2016. Additionally, in the past two years prior to the designation, over 100,000 Americans added their name to a petition addressed to President Obama asking him to designate Gold Butte a National Monument. We are grateful and relieved that President Obama acted on our request on December 28, 2016 by designating the Gold Butte National Monument with a presidential proclamation.
The designation was celebrated by many people. Most of Nevada’s congressional delegation have expressed strong support, including Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Representative Ruben Kihuen, Representative Dina Titus, and Representative Jacky Rosen. In May 2017, the Nevada State Legislature passed a Resolution, AJR13, in support of Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments and the Antiquities Act. In addition, there have been numerous opinion pieces and supportive letters published in local and national newspapers. A copy the Resolution AJR13 and selected media clips are enclosed in our supporting materials attachment.
On the Issue of Water Rights and Boundaries
There are many benefits to the monument designation. In addition to protecting historic, cultural and natural resources, the Proclamation protects existing rights and rights of way and mandates a planning process that increases public input in the management of the monument.
Significantly, the Proclamation language protects water rights: “The establishment of the monument is subject to valid existing rights, including valid existing water rights” (page 5). The proclamation also protects rights of way and the ability for the water district to make modifications and upgrades to their water infrastructure:
“Consistent with the care and management of the objects identified above, nothing in this proclamation shall be construed to preclude the renewal or assignment of, or interfere with the operation, maintenance, replacement, modification, or upgrade within the physical authorization boundary of existing flood control, pipeline, and telecommunications facilities, or other water infrastructure, including wildlife water catchments or water district facilities, that are located within the monument. Except as necessary for the care and management of the objects identified above, no new rights-of-way shall be authorized within the monument.” (Gold Butte National Monument Proclamation, pages 5-6).
The boundaries for Gold Butte National Monument were carefully drawn and considerable efforts were made to include the opinion from all local entities. Governor Sandoval referenced this extensive outreach process in his statement released after the designation. Relevant parts of his statement are as follows:
“At the same time, I recognized the inevitability of this designation and therefore met and talked with leaders from Mesquite, land owners, stakeholders and special user groups on this specific issue to try and address their concerns. I also visited the site and saw a beautiful part of Nevada with many special features, including extraordinary petroglyphs, slot canyons and unique rock formations.
“Following these discussions and the tour, I met with the White House to present these concerns, and my staff held follow-up meetings to address a number of issues including changing the proposed boundary to eliminate all private land to protect the interests of Mesquite and allow the city to continue to develop and grow as a municipality. We also worked with the White House and Department of Interior to ensure Nevada water law is adhered to and that the Virgin Valley Water District would have access to its water infrastructure for continued development and maintenance. Additionally, we worked to guarantee that the designated area would still be open for recreation, hunting, and multiple-use activities, including OHV trail riding, currently enjoyed by Nevadans and tourists alike. I also requested that a robust working group be established to develop the management plan that includes all voices.”
- Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval on the designation of Gold Butte National Monument, December 28, 2016. You can read his full statement on this link.
Indeed, after the designation, local parties expressed satisfaction with the Monument boundaries. For example, Virgin Valley Water District Kevin Brown was quoted as saying that while the District did not get the exact language they proposed, he was confident that they had what they needed, noting “We have all the right of ways we need” (click here for article in Mesquite Local News, Jan. 2, 2017 and a copy is included in our supporting materials attachment).
Prior to designation, the Friends of Gold Butte advocated for the Monument boundaries to include northern bajada of the Virgin Mountains. This area is critical habitat for the Mojave Desert tortoise, a living antiquity threatened with extinction. We appreciate that the boundaries were drawn to reflect concerns and considerations of all local stakeholders. We feel that the final Monument boundary is a good balance of the everyone’s interest. The compromise over the boundary occurred during the designation process, and we oppose any effort to further stray from the original Gold Butte Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) boundaries already reduced in by almost 50,000 acres in Gold Butte National Monument.
Gold Butte National Monument Offers an Economic Benefit
Finally, it is important to note the long term and sustaining economic benefits of Gold Butte National Monument. With this designation, Gold Butte will provide a boost for the rural economies in southern Nevada. People like to live, work, and travel in places that are near protected public lands. They provide a source of sustainable economic development because the resource that supports the economy is conserved as opposed to extracted and depleted. The resource will always be there, provided we continue to protect it.
For the City of Mesquite, Gold Butte National Monument will provide a sustainable source for economic growth for years to come. A 2015 analysis of the potential economic benefits found that if only 10 percent of new visitors attracted to Gold Butte stay in Mesquite, the total economic gain for the city would be $2.7 million dollars per year and the creation of 28 full-time jobs. To further support the economic benefits of National Monuments to local communities, we cite a 2016 study conducted by the Small Business Majority of ten recent monument designations found the new Monuments delivered $156 million annually in combined economic benefits to local communities. (The executive summaries for both studies noted in this comment and an annotated bibliography of several more are included in the attached supporting materials document.)
The Friends of Gold Butte is dedicated to promoting the responsible enjoyment of the Gold Butte National Monument through education, stewardship, advocacy and preservation of natural and cultural resources. In partnership with the Bureau of Land Management and community organizations, we engage in service projects and outings. We believe that community involvement and stewardship combined with sound science-based land management practices will ensure that current and future generations can continue to enjoy the pristine desert beauty found in Gold Butte.
In addition to stating our support for Gold Butte National Monument, we wish to express our full support for the Antiquities Act. National monuments honor our collective American heritage. The Antiquities Act is needed to ensure that we can continue to protect important objects of historic and scientific interest. We hope that all protections remain in place for all national monuments under this review.
Thank you for taking the time to consider our comments. We are happy to answer any questions you may have about the Gold Butte National Monument. We hope you agree with Nevadans who fought to protect Gold Butte—it should remain a National Monument, in its entirety.