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U.S. Senator Harry Reid helps
wilderness radicals screw rural Nevada.
By Tim Findley

To the millions of acres of the West gobbled up by federal decrees in 2000, add another 1.2 million acres of Nevada’s Black Rock/High Rock Desert, snatched at the very last moment by one of the oldest tricks in the political swamp.

Nevada’s senior U.S. Senator and Minority Whip, Harry Reid (D-NV), made it possible to preserve the legacy of his retiring junior colleague, Senator Richard Bryan (D-NV), by including Bryan’s bill for a National Conservation Area (NCA) as a rider in the final Senate Appropriations Bill of the 106th Congress.

That meant that at least 600,000 acres of the desert will be set aside as a National Conservation Area and another 757,000 acres as a wilderness administered by the Bureau of Land Management. It comes without a single hearing in Congress and despite the formal written protests of the Governor of Nevada and the elected commissions of all but one of the state’s 17 counties. It instantly doubled the size of officiated wilderness in the Silver State, long known for its resistance to further federal control over the 87 percent of its land mass already held as “public” property.

Opponents to the measure quickly branded Reid’s maneuver as a “blatant land grab,” but conservationists, ecstatic over the unexpected victory, joined Marge Sill of the Sierra Club in proclaiming that “Nevada is no longer the black hole of the Wilderness Movement.”

Bryan, who was considered by many to have been seeking the bill as a personal tribute to friends in the early campaigns to preserve immigrant trails, insisted that multiple use, including grazing and recreation, will continue to be permitted in the area. Opponents, who always doubted any need for additional layers of federal control over a region already almost entirely in BLM hands, questioned whether such promises will last for long.

Senator Reid was considered by inside observers to have negotiated the bill onto the essential appropriations measure by making a deal with Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK) to support Murkowski on another Alaska lands issue.

Kevin Mack, a coordinator with the until-now struggling Nevada Wilderness Project, pushed aside the nearly unanimous opposition of the state’s counties as well as other members of its congressional delegation to claim that the success was the result of new urbanization in Las Vegas and Reno.

“We represent the new face of Nevada,” he boasted. “We didn’t create the demand for these things. We just know there are more and more people moving in here who want to protect the land.” Thanks to Reid, that question was never taken up either in congressional hearings or by state ballot.

Last-minute-man Harry Reid is known for such tricks. His Public Law 101-618, stripping parts of Nevada of irrigation water, slipped by with the margin of a single vote at the worn-out end of the congressional session in 1990. It trades farms for wetlands. Without carrying a single rural county in his home state, Reid was narrowly re-elected in 1998 by a margin of some 500 votes. His advantage was in the blistering growth of Las Vegas.

For a more complete description of the Black Rock/High Rock region, see RANGE Fall 2000.

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