« Return to this article

Know the West

Silver state gets a little wilder



For wilderness boosters who've spent years trying to convince the rest of the country - and more than a few of their fellow Nevadans - that the desert around Las Vegas is not a wasteland, Nov. 5 brought some good news. President Bush signed the Clark County Public Lands and Natural Resources Act into law, designating more than 450,000 acres of new wilderness in southern Nevada.

The bill included only about a tenth of the 4.1 million acres in the Nevada Wilderness Coalition's Mojave Desert wilderness proposal. Nonetheless, wilderness advocate John Wallin says that bipartisan support from Democratic Sen. Harry Reid and Republican Sen. John Ensign holds promise for more wilderness designations in the future.

The new wilderness comes at a price. Since 1998, the Bureau of Land Management has been auctioning off public lands near Las Vegas to accommodate the city's relentless growth. The new act "releases" 233,000 acres from consideration for wilderness status, and paves the way for a 5,752-acre land transfer for a massive new airport 30 miles south of Las Vegas.

"Senator Reid was absolutely intractable on that," says the Sierra Club's Jane Feldman. "His vision is that Las Vegas will extend from (the California) state line to (the Arizona) state line." Feldman worries that noise from the new airport could impact endangered wildlife in the nearby Mojave National Preserve.