|Officials praise Nevada wild areas as key tourism driver|
|Written by Wild Nevada|
|Wednesday, 04 April 2012 17:21|
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Sen. Harry Reid rolled into Las Vegas today to talk tourism, and the subject of public lands and special landscapes figured prominently in the discussions.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal , Reid and Salazar – who were joined by Gov. Brian Sandoval, state Sen. Steven Horsford and dozens of local dignitaries and tourism representatives at the roundtable discussion – said one of the best ways to bring more visitors to Southern Nevada is to promote such “off-Strip sights such as Hoover Dam, Red Rock Canyon, the Great Basin National Park, the state's wilderness areas and the Grand Canyon in next-door Arizona.”
"This is perhaps the best place to demonstrate what we can do with tourism in this country," Salazar said. "We know that Nevada is a comeback state and its best days are still ahead."
Horsford, who announced his candidacy for Congress last year, singled out the 350,000-acre Gold Butte area as an example of a special landscape that could help spur the Southern Nevada economy if it were protected.
"We have a jewel in Gold Butte, outside of Mesquite, that we need to recognize and protect," said Horsford.
This, of course, is music to our ears. Our Conservation Director, John Tull, was at the meeting and got the chance to address the group.
"It is exciting for me to see the level of recognition and enthusiasm for our wildest, most scenic places as a key component of tourism,” Tull said. “We look forward to further protections, including designation of Gold Butte as a National Conservation Area with Wilderness, that will enhance outdoor opportunities to draw and retain tourists to Nevada and the United States."
In March, Salazar, recently appointed to President Obama’s Task Force for Travel and Competitiveness, noted that national parks, wild refuges, cultural and historic sites, monuments and other public lands play a key role in Obama’s efforts to create more jobs and improve the national economy through tourism. The U.S. Department of Commerce last month said tourism spending jumped 8.1 percent in 2011, and Obama wants to build on that momentum by identifying “new ways to raise the profile of our most iconic destinations,” Salazar said.
Last year Salazar included Gold Butte in his “Crown Jewels” report identifying 18 areas that deserve permanent protection by Congress. He said at the time that the 18 areas were selected for their spectacular natural attributes and the fact that they’ve been under consideration for many years with “very little controversy.”
While opponents often claim that activities are restricted in federally protect conservation areas, proponents, including the Nevada Wilderness Project, note that conservation areas can be tailor made to fit local desires. In the case of Gold Butte, the area’s 500 miles of existing roads will remain open, assuring access to all corners of the area .
Making it a conservation area would help prevent serious degradation of Gold Butte’s valuable resources – from its ancient rock art to its critical tortoise and bighorn sheep habitat.
“It’s a false argument to say that Gold Butte would be ‘locked up’ with no public access if it were to become a national conservation area,” Tull said. “The law would guarantee that not a single mile of the 500 miles of roads in Gold Butte would be closed.”
Instead, making the area a National Conservation Area with Wilderness could have the effect of opening up Gold Butte to more admirers, Tull said.
“Instead of rushing past the exit sign on Interstate 15, travelers would be drawn into Mesquite, where a new visitor center would introduce them to the amenities of Gold Butte, educate them about nearby recreational opportunities, and help them plan how to enjoy their exploration of the area,” he said. “Such a visitor center has long been needed for this important corner of Nevada.”