Newspaper column: Selective dudgeon by environmentalists over use of national monument land

Vegas to Reno race

This is why they are called spoilsports.

A group calling itself Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is raising a ruckus over plans by the Bureau of Land Management to route a portion of a desert race from Las Vegas to Reno through a short span of the newly minted 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument.

The race, called the General Tire Las Vegas to Reno race, is said to be the longest off-highway race in the country, about 640 miles, and usually has about 300 motorcycles, trucks, dune buggies and assorted all-terrain vehicles competing each year. It has been run annually for 20 years by the Best in the Desert Racing Association. It starts near Alamo, has an overnight stop in Tonopah and ends near Dayton.

“BLM’s race plan makes a mockery out of President Obama’s monument declaration,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in a statement. “BLM is playing fast and loose with its legal obligations in order to let hundreds of vehicles roar through fragile desert before the monument’s protections can be solidified.”

President Obama created the national monument this past July by executive fiat under the authority given to him in the Antiquities Act of 1906, even though the Constitution only empowers Congress to make all rules regarding public land.

A complaint sent to the White House and the Secretary of the Interior by PEER accuses the BLM of flouting the presidential monument proclamation directive that “motorized vehicle use in the monument shall be permitted only on roads existing as of the date of this proclamation.”

The Las Vegas newspaper carried an Associated Press account of the objection, but added that it contacted Basin and Range National Monument manager Alicia Styles, who told the paper the proposed route for the race crosses about 40 miles of the monument — all of it on existing dirt roads.

According to the Federal Register account of the Basin and Range National Monument designation, “Except for emergency or authorized administrative purposes, motorized vehicle use in the monument shall be permitted only on roads existing as of the date of this proclamation.”

So what’s the beef? The road exists now.

So far as we’ve heard, neither PEER nor any other self-styled environmentalists has raised any objections to the paragraph that precedes that statement about existing roads: “Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to limit the authority of the Secretary, under applicable law other than this proclamation, to undertake or authorize activities on public land in the vicinity of the sculpture City for the purpose of preventing harm to the artwork, including activities to improve drainage and to prevent erosion, consistent with the care and management of the objects identified above. The management plan for the monument shall provide for reasonable use of existing roads within the monument to facilitate public access to City.”

Art is good? Sport is bad?

City is just a lot of bulldozed dirt, rocks and concrete that is supposed to be “reminiscent of a ceremonial Mesoamerican city stretching across an expanse of desert nearly the size of the Mall” in Washington. Construction has been going on for nearly 50 years on private land inside what is now a national monument. Some mounds are 80 feet high on a tract more than a mile long and a quarter mile wide.

One of the reasons given by Nevada Sen. Harry Reid in recommending to Obama the creation of the national monument was to provide a buffer to this City “artwork.”

Reid gushed to the Washington Post about seeing the mounds of dirt: “I became a convert. … You have this magnificent work of art that this man spent half a century working on. And that’s quite a story.”

Both Reps. Mark Amodei and Cresent Hardy opposed the monument designation, as have elected officials in Nye and Lincoln counties where the Basin and Range National Monument lies, fearing it would retard economic development.

Though the monument designation specifically requires public access to City, the art is not yet open to the public, just to VIPs like Reid, and its completion date, if ever, is unknown.

Apparently, all those holes and mounds in City do not damage the fragile desert, as PEER calls it, while driving a few bikes and trucks over an existing road for a couple of hours one day a year is devastating.

City “art” project inside Basin and Range National Monument. Photo via LA Times)

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

11 comments on “Newspaper column: Selective dudgeon by environmentalists over use of national monument land

  1. Rincon says:

    Interesting that on these same pages, I’ve heard complaints about solar panels destroying the desert ecology, but now read that a 640 mile off road race (the terminology used by the articles I see) with 300 vehicles is just fine. I don’t really object to the race, just the inconsistency that appears to exist.

    Although much of this race may be run on “roads”, is a dirt track that’s traversed by say,10 vehicles a year really a road? Even on the more heavily traveled “roads”, there is a marked difference between a few vehicles quietly traversing the area and 850 horsepower beasts tearing up the landscape.

  2. Patrick says:

    Never heard of an “off road race” being run on roads.

    Where is Winston?

    Off Roads are roads
    War is Peace
    Etc, Etc. Etc.

  3. Steve says:

    In Nevada, all paved “roads” are highway’s while non paved “roads” are “off road”



  4. Rincon says:

    So we’re supposed to just take your word for it that off road means on road. Are you going to sell me a bridge as well?

  5. Steve says:

    You could do your own checking you know.

    NRS 484A.095  “Highway” defined.  “Highway” means the entire width between the boundary lines of every way dedicated to a public authority when any part of the way is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular traffic, whether or not the public authority is maintaining the way.

    (Added to NRS by 1969, 1478; A 1981, 1690) — (Substituted in revision for NRS 484.065)

    And by the way,

    NRS 408.090  “Shall” and “may” construed.  “Shall” is mandatory and “may” is permissive.

    (Added to NRS by 1957, 664)

    NRS 490.060  “Off-highway vehicle” defined.

    1.  “Off-highway vehicle” means a motor vehicle that is designed primarily for off-highway and all-terrain use. The term includes, but is not limited to:

    (a) An all-terrain vehicle, including, without limitation, a large all-terrain vehicle without regard to whether that large all-terrain vehicle is registered by the Department in accordance with NRS 490.0825 as a motor vehicle intended to be operated upon the highways of this State;

    (b) An all-terrain motorcycle;

    (c) A dune buggy;

    (d) A snowmobile; and

    (e) Any motor vehicle used on public lands for the purpose of recreation.

    2.  The term does not include:

    (a) A motor vehicle designed primarily for use in water;

    (b) A motor vehicle that is registered by the Department in accordance with chapter 482 of NRS;

    (c) A low-speed vehicle as defined in NRS 484B.637; or

    (d) Special mobile equipment, as defined in NRS 482.123.

    (Added to NRS by 2005, 2025; A 2009, 3102; 2011, 292; 2013, 705)

  6. Steve says:

    And here is a link to the definitions.

    And, to reiterate,

    NRS 408.090  “Shall” and “may” construed.  “Shall” is mandatory and “may” is permissive.

    (Added to NRS by 1957, 664)

  7. Rincon says:

    Thank you. Now, can anyone show that the course involves only or almost only preexisting highways? And will the vehicles stay on these highways or are they allowed to spill out onto the adjacent land? Remember, I don’t actually object to the race. I’m from the Midwest where essentially none of the land has been preserved in its wild state. I just think the “damage” done is probably about as great as the “damage” done by a field of solar panels.

  8. Steve says:

    The race is specifically authorized on those existing dirt “roads”.
    That detail was spelled out in one of Tom’s earlier pieces.

  9. Rincon says:

    Even on existing “highways”. the damage to the so called ecosystem over a 640 mile race course with 850 hp vehicles is likely to be just as great as that from a solar field. No need to agree. Just sayin’

  10. Steve says:

    “Fun” need not apply.
    Hence the title of this column, eh?

  11. […] group calling itself Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility had protested routing the 640-mile race across a 37-mile stretch of dirt road on the newly minted 700,000-acre […]

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