Gibbons calls butterfly advocates ‘radical’
In the wake of recent conservation measures aimed at curtailing the use of off-highway vehicles on some of Nevada’s more sensitive public lands, U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons blasted federal land managers over access issues.
“I am extremely frustrated with the ongoing trend of denying public access to public lands. This alarming trend must be reversed,” the Nevada Republican said in a statement.
The congressman’s public statement was directed at the Bureau of Land Management, in part over its handling of the Sand Mountain Recreation Area, about 30 miles east of Fallon, the only place where the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly is currently known to exist.
In order to stem the loss of vegetation which sustains the insect, the BLM implemented a voluntary closure program for trails north and northwest of the massive dune last fall. The program uses signs to encourage the use of some trails and discourage the use of others.
While environmentalists ridiculed a voluntary plan as toothless, off-road enthusiasts attacked it as encompassing too much of the nearly 4,800-acre recreation area.
Both sides of the controversy charged the BLM with catering to special interests.
Last month, the conservationist group Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition with the department of the Interior asking to list the butterfly as an endangered or threatened species.
An off-road advocacy group called the Blue Ribbon Coalition has since asked Interior Secretary Gale Norton to dismiss the petition, and Gibbons’ statement Friday condemned bans on OHVs.
“Succumbing to pressure from radical environmental organizations, the BLM has targeted numerous OHV recreation areas and, one by one, successfully shut them off to the public,” Gibbons said.
A CBD spokesman countered that nearly all of Nevada’s public land, which comprises most of the state, is open to all manner of vehicles.
“I think it’s radical to say every single inch of public land should be open for unfettered OHV use no matter what,” said CBD ecologist Daniel Patterson.
“Nobody’s talking about shutting down all OHV use at Sand Mountain.”
According to BLM figures, about 85 percent of the more than 5 million acres under the Carson City field office’s purview, which includes Sand Mountain, is completely open for OHVs. Much of the land with vehicle restrictions is in federally mandated Wilderness Study Areas.
The BLM’s Carson City field office also manages public land in the western Nevada’s Pine Nut Mountains. Bureau officials implemented an emergency closure there earlier this month to protect fossils they say have been uncovered and damaged by growing OHV traffic in recent years.
Along with Sand Mountain, Gibbons specifically mentioned the 2,340-acre Pine Nut Mountains recreation area closure in his call to stop public land restrictions.
Although 2,300 acres sounds like a lot of ground, said BLM official Elayn Briggs, it is part of the massive 300,000-acre Pine Nut recreation area. The rest of the area remains open.
Gibbons said any decisions on access to public lands must be based on sound scientific data. Briggs said that is exactly what the BLM plans on doing.