Mesquite City Councilman Kraig Hafen's bid to rescind a 2010 City Council approved resolution (No. 669) supporting the declaration of Gold Butte as a National Conservation Area (NCA) failed on Apr. 24.
Pioneer descendent, Hafen, who had supported the resolution when it was proposed in 2010, attempted to argue that he wanted to rescind the resolution for 120 days in order to bring all those interested in the issue to the table and revisit the “where as and where for's,” in the resolution. City Councilman, George Rapson supported his effort.
However, City Councilman Karl Gustaveson, who also supported the original resolution, argued successfully that the resolution was an important statement of the community's support for the Gold Butte initiative. He further argued that, if anything, the resolution should be strengthened, which could occur over time. He was joined in his dissent of Hafen's motion by Councilman Al Litman.
The two against two vote was broken by Mayor Mark Wier, who pointed out that rescinding the resolution would send the wrong message to the community about the Council's support of the initiative and leave local government without a seat at the table for further government negotiations.
Generally, Wier can avoid voting on issues but the fifth member of the council, GenoWithelder, was absent, which forced Wier to decide the issue.
Only Hafen knows why he re-generated the controversy over the 2010 non-binding resolution. He said that he wanted more public input, but the public has been speaking in favor of NCA for Gold Butte for years. A cynic might argue that he was kowtowing to the continued pressure from the pioneer descendents to let them manage their “backyard,” in their own way.
A few Hafen supporters, mostly from Bunkerville, addressed the Council, prior to Hafen's motion to cancel the resolution. It was the same tired argument: “The government's bad, we are good. Leave us alone to manage “our land.”
Republican State Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, of Bunkerville, attempted to use an out-dated wilderness study to disprove any notion that a NCA designation would benefit the economy of the community.
Unfortunately, for Hardy, the study had been reviewed prior to the meeting by local resident and businessman John M. Williams who pointed out to the Council why the study did not apply to the Gold Butte situation.
A resolution is simply a statement of support for an initiative. It's non-binding and has little, if any, associated costs. But it's the symbolism of government involvement in their lives that disturb the pioneer mentality.
What they don't say, or fail to acknowledge, is that their ancestors settled on land because of the largess of the government that was encouraging settlement of the West. Yes, many of their ancestors were sent here by the Mormon Church. But the land, the water, and the grass was owned by the people and managed, on their behalf, by the government. They had to make government regulated improvements to keep the land.
In 1934, Herbert Hoover, passed through Congress the Taylor Grazing Act. The Act was necessary to improve range management on public land. Eventually the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was established, under the Department of Interior, to administer the range lands. Their management continues to this day.
Under the Act, livestock producers were given 10-year (renewable) permits for grazing, and rights of passage on grazing districts. They also received permits to build fences, reservoirs, and make other improvements.
Fees were imposed and honorable livestock owners paid those fees and passed the cost to the livestock buyers who passed the costs onto the meat and wool consumers. These permits can be revoked for any number of natural disasters that deplete grazing lands.
The grazing days passed into history about 50 years ago, when the livestock markets collapsed and the government moved to convert the public’s property to multi-use.
Communities that once depended upon farms and ranching for economic stabilization moved along with the government, or the government moved along with the public, to mitigate the dying livestock industry with multi-use activities.
Today, the lands surrounding many cowboy towns are still largely managed by the Forest Service and the Department of Interior, but their efforts have shifted to the public’s demand for multi-use activities.
Industry has grown alongside these economic shifts, and in many communities one would find film and writers festivals, healthcare, social service, professional jobs, scientific and technical services, wood product manufacturing and all the supporting services grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and so on, on the boundaries of multi-use public lands.
Some of the former ranches locally, and in many other areas, are now retirement destinations where enlightened residents have fostered land and environmental planning organizations seeking to encourage effective land use planning by providing information and disseminating ideas on public policy and by aggressively enforcing federal, state and local land use and environmental laws and codes.
I came from a pioneering family who was part of the mass migration of people settling the western lands. I have seen them struggle with the ups and downs of ranching life. But most importantly, I have seen their descendants, such as myself, evolve away from that life and become part of the new economy. An economy that gives each of us a higher quality of life, a safer and heather environment and opportunities unknown to my early pioneer ancestors. And this came about, not from needless arguing against government involvement, but by evolving and working together to improve the land for everyone to enjoy.
One cousin still farms my family's original 1879 homestead, settled by my great-great grandfather, but he does not graze livestock. All of my other cousins, and their children, went on to other careers.
Those opposing government involvement should remember that it was the government who taught them how to graze livestock. It was the government who taught farmers about soil erosion and control. It was the government who established the first agriculture schools and set up educational seminars to improve agriculture profits. And it's the government who puts out the range fires and controls the pests (including people ) that destroy nature's habitat.
Those claiming they want to manage the Gold Butte area themselves lack the money, time and talent to take on that task. If they had the time, money and talent, the area would not be in its current condition.
Like many of my cousins, I went to college and spent a career in government service. The last 10 years of my service was with the Department of Interior. Just before my father died, he and I were traveling to Antelope, Oregon, for a family reunion. “Well son,” he said. “You have done well with your career, but I wouldn't tell your cousins about this Department of Interior thing.” Some attitudes never change.
[Editor's note: Officially, Councilman Gustaveson voted against the 2010 resolution although he says it was in error. See Mesquite Citizen Journal story Council Meeting Wrap-Up, Lawson Issues Unusual Statement-Video]