A recent vote by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission could have an affect on the success or failure of current efforts to declare the Gold Butte area south of Mesquite as a National Conservation Area (NCA) with Wilderness.
The Commission voted to oppose designating 1.7 million acres in the northern section of the state as a Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument.
The proposal encompasses 1.7 million acres of mostly public land spread across five geographical areas: the Kaibab Plateau; Kaibab-Paunsagunt Wildlife Corridor; Kaibab Creek Watershed; House Rock Valley; and the Tusayan Ranger District, south rim headquarters.
The area is contiguous to the southern boundary of the current Gold Butte Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and the Nevada/Arizona border.
According to a notice published on the Commission's Web site, "the vast majority of lands in question are already public lands currently managed and conserved under multiple-use concepts, primarily by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management." The Gold Butte ACEC is also managed by the BLM.
The nationally-recognized wildlife management organization also pointed to its own analysis that determined the monument designation could lead to restrictions on proactive management of wildlife including wildlife population augmentations, wildlife habitat manipulations and enhancements, wildlife water development and hunting and fishing access.
“It’s not as if these lands aren’t already being managed and conserved. This is really about changing the status of these lands and adding another layer of federal bureaucracy, which has far-ranging implications,” said Commissioner Kurt R. Davis.
Some of the issues the Commission cites in its opposition to the monument designation also exist in the discussion regarding the Gold Butte NCA designation, especially from those who are concerned about accessibility and multiple-use availability.
"The new monument is being proposed to “preserve” and in some cases lock away these lands rather than conserve them, which could impact public access, recreation, grazing, and the ability of the commission to manage wildlife," the Commission says.
"Once federal lands are converted to special use lands such as Wilderness and National Monuments, those lands permanently lose multiple-use provisions. In spite of organic legislation emphasizing multiple-use of public lands, neither the U.S. Forest Service or BLM have established any objectives for acreages of public lands to be maintained in full multiple-use," says the Commission's formal resolution opposing the National Monument.
Those who disagree with designating wide swaths of Gold Butte as Wilderness say similar outcomes could occur in the area with road closures and a prohibition on motorized and mechanized access.
The Friends of Gold Butte organization, a proponent advocacy group for designating Gold Butte as a National Conservation Area (NCA) with Wilderness says "there are no motorized access conflicts within the Citizens' Wilderness proposal."
Grazing rights in the Gold Butte area were pulled by Clark County in the 1990s. The lone remaining rancher in Clark County, Cliven Bundy, has been battling the BLM over grazing rights for his cattle for years. See Mesquite Citizen Journal stories
The Arizona State Commission also cites "the continuing and cumulative effects that special land use designations have on multiple-use lands, including effects on access, conservation efforts and wildlife-related recreation."
Its resolution says that only 23 percent of Arizona lands remain open for public use and free from special land use designations.
The Gold Butte NCA designation would claim just over 350,000 acres. The Friends of Gold Butte organization has identified more than 120,000 acres within the NCA it wants designated as Wilderness. That would prevent any kind of access other than on foot.
The Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002 designated 451,915 acres in the County as Wilderness.
The Partners in Conservation group, an advocacy group that opposes additional Wilderness designation in the Gold Butte area says that if a person draws a 100 mile circle around Mesquite, "that circle encompasses a little over 20 million acres with 16 million acres designated as monuments, wilderness, National Conservation Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Refuges, military bases, national parks or state parks."
The Arizona State Commission says that the cumulative affect of declaring so many areas with special designations "has caused the systematic loss of recreational opportunities" and the erosion of the Department's ability to proactively manage wildlife.
"The department analysis points out that the loss of livestock management can cause significant loss of water availability for wildlife, besides negatively impacting the local economy."
Longtime residents in the Mesquite and Bunkerville area agree with that claim.
Cresent Hardy, lifetime area resident and Mesquite's State Assembly representative says that wildlife has suffered over the years as ranchers sold out their grazing rights and quit ranching much of the Gold Butte area.
"Wildlife depends on the water resource developments that ranchers built in the area over the years. As those watering spots went away, so did the wildlife," Hardy contends.
Bundy has been ordered by the BLM to remove all of his water management resources that he's built throughout the Gold Butte area over the years. He says that if his water resources go, so too will the wildlife.
The Utah State Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that would require the Federal government to give control of almost 30 million acres of land to the State. Governor Gary Herbert contends that his state wanting control of the lands is an economic development issue and gives the legislature more control over multiple use choices on public lands.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed similar legislation last week for her state. The Arizona Bill would have required the Federal government to turn over approximately 23 million acres of land to the State. Brewer cited the cost of managing the land as her deciding factor against approval. She says it would cost the State approximately $23 million to manage the additional acreage.
Click here for full access to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission Resolution