Advocacy is a big part of what Friends of Gold Butte is all about. We have been advocating to protect Gold Butte for more than 10 years. What follows is a history of our efforts that will explain just how important it is that we don’t wait any longer!

Originally posted by the Nevada Wilderness Project

We began our campaign to protect Gold Butte more than 10 years ago, and we always knew that compromise was going to be part of the deal. “Compromise” means many things to many people. For some, compromise is an intolerable sellout of one’s core principles, an indication of weakness and cowardice. For others, it is a tactic, a path to results and a common sense application of sandbox rules we learned as toddlers.

At the Nevada Wilderness Project, we operate with the understanding that compromise is necessary to make incremental progress on protecting our wild federal lands. The designations we seek, such as Wilderness or National Conservation Area, more often than not require an act of Congress, a difficult and cumbersome effort that takes a long time–and a hearty dose of bipartisanship, public vetting, and participation by local, state and national interests. Using compromise, we have spearheaded successful bi-partisan, landmark legislative efforts that have protected some of the best public lands in Nevada. We believe in compromise as a “two-way street.”

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In Gold Butte, our efforts at compromise have been extensive and ongoing. In 2002, the Nevada Wilderness Coalition proposed 348,241 acres of wilderness (see the map to the right), constituting much of Gold Butte. During this time, then-Congressman Jim Gibbons introduced a bill to release all wilderness study areas. (“Release” is the technical term for “unprotect.” The BLM is required to manage wilderness study areas in a way that protects their wilderness characteristics until Congress designates the area or “releases” it.)

Our coalition proposed all of this acreage for wilderness protection because our fieldwork and inventory of the wilderness characteristics indicated this land legally qualified for wilderness designation. In the end, strong pushback from Congressman Gibbons and from a virulently anti-conservation House Resources Committee meant that we could only muster enough support in Congress to designate two small areas: Lime Canyon Wilderness at 23,000 acres, and Jumbo Springs, at 4,600 acres—for a total of 27,600 acres

27,600 acres out of 348,241 did not represent nor offer protection for all of the wilderness-quality lands. However, our coalition accepted and worked for passage of the Clark County Conservation, Recreation and Development Act with the understanding that incremental progress is better than no progress. With broader conservation gains in the legislation, we recognized this was what compromise looked like.

Yet, the wilderness quality lands in Gold Butte continued to suffer:

  • off road vehicle abuse
  • theft and destruction of cultural artifacts
  • willful ignorance of historical sites

Specifically, people drove off-road vehicles through agave roasting pits, fired bullets into petroglyph walls from point-blank range, scratched over rock art, and tore down historic corrals and burned them as firewood.

Our own Nancy Hall assumed leadership of Friends of Gold Butte in 2006, elected by local and Las Vegas-based membership to ratchet up that group’s stewardship and advocacy efforts. And it was critical work, shifting the focus of Friends of Gold Butte from an ORV-heavy, consumptive-use organization to one that intelligently and openly worked with the BLM and other stakeholders on a wide range of issues. These ranged from Travel Management Plan input, to National Public Lands Day projects and burn revegetation and restoration. Educational hikes were held for members of the community, and membership in Friends of Gold Butte increased dramatically.

During this time, a Travel Management Plan for Gold Butte was conducted by the BLM. The subcontractor for the BLM on the roads data was Partners in Conservation (PIC), a Moapa Valley-based group whose methodology and work was never made public by the BLM. The resulting interim roads plan left open redundant roads and was an inferior effort that emphasized access over conservation (even though conservation was the stated goal of the travel management plan).

And here’s where the Nevada Wilderness Project held its fire: We perceived the process and the BLM’s lack of transparency as a problem for the resource, but after much discussion we decided to support the plan. We even talked some conservation group partners out of pursuing legal action because we felt we could still reason with an angry and incoherent opposition. And damage continued to the resources at Gold Butte.

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In 2007-2008, we revamped our proposal yet again to accommodate feedback from the City of Mesquite, PIC, and other stakeholders. We moved boundaries, we changed acreage and ultimately, we tried to develop legislative language that could give opposition stakeholders reason to support the proposal. And each time we made a concession, we were told to come a little farther, with no prospect of reciprocation from PIC and an angry minority core they represent. (see map to the right)

Congresswoman Shelley Berkley introduced the legislation only after repeated attempts to engage then-Congressman Porter were met with stalling and avoidance. That fall the economy collapsed, and Congressional effort was consumed by averting a national fiscal crisis. The bill did not move despite polls that showed a majority of voters in Southern Nevada supported protecting Gold Butte.

January 2009 dawned with a decidedly pro-conservation majority in the House and Senate. Congresswoman Dina Titus, arguably the most conservation-minded freshman legislator Nevada has ever had in the House, took her election as a mandate to speak with everyone on all sides of the Gold Butte issue. The Nevada Wilderness Project, Friends of Gold Butte and our coalition partners did not mistake the results of the election for an opportunity to run roughshod over opposition interests.

Rather, we continued to meet with concerned stakeholders from Bunkerville, Moapa and Mesquite, worked with our bipartisan delegation to put together stakeholder meetings and answer concerns and questions. We worked with the City of Mesquite to secure a unanimous—unanimous!—statement of support for the Gold Butte NCA with wilderness in October 2009.

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In the spring of 2010, we worked with hundreds of our supporters in the Las Vegas Valley to get a Clark County Resolution passed in favor of the Gold Butte NCA with wilderness. Another poll indicated tremendous support statewide for conservation in Gold Butte.

Dozens of events and hikes were planned and executed, and our coalition kept the spirit and the purpose of our compromise intact: address issues, be civil with those with whom we disagree, and provide fact-based information to skeptics. And change the proposal to accommodate concerns, again and again.

We have come to the end of 2010 with a small but vocal minority of opponents who agree to work together in public and undermine in private; who use the overblown rhetoric of extremism; and whom have repeatedly shown that they are not engaged to contribute, to collaborate, to work with common cause. But rather, they seek stagnation, to foment anger with misinformation and misrepresentation and retreat into the comfortable cocoon of “No.” And all the while the damage in Gold Butte continues, as the day of its protection gets passed to another year.

In conclusion, here is what we must work to avoid: a sense that every time we reduce acreage of a proposed protected area, every time we amend a boundary to accommodate, every time we support legislative language to assuage fears and meet opponents in the middle, we see the goalposts shift. “New concerns” arise that require new concessions on our part. Each time, we are told (or we tell ourselves), this will satisfy the opposition’s concerns.

This has happened too often in our negotiations with the primary opponents of designations for Gold Butte. They are a small, vocal minority that has demonstrated a consistent preference for the language of extremism and a propensity to change opinions and rhetoric with each passing Congress. Sometimes with each passing public meeting.

Yet the time for Gold Butte is now. The evidence is in the maps. It is in the voices of Nevadans who have taken action for Gold Butte. It is in the support of national organizations that recognize Gold Butte as a natural treasure worth protecting for all Americans. It is evident in the work of volunteers who have found compromise and sound solutions for giving Gold Butte the protection it deserves.