By Mary Manning
Las Vegas Sun
The Bureau of Land Management signed an order today that withdraws almost 945,000 acres of sensitive public lands from new mining activity in Southern Nevada for 20 years.
The bureau said it had taken the action to protect 24 areas of critical environmental concern in Clark and Nye counties. Existing mining and geothermal claims will not be affected, the order said.
The sensitive areas include cultural sites, such as petroglyphs and archaeological sites, and wildlife habitat that is crucial for survival of the Mojave Desert tortoise, the southwestern willow flycatcher bird, woundfin and Virgin River chub fish and other species in the Ash Springs area.
These critical areas had been threatened from growth in the Las Vegas Valley, the bureau said. In order for threatened and endangered species to recover, their habitats need to be protected, the order said.
The lands affected in the critical areas have been temporarily set aside since the Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resource Act of 2002 was passed. BLM extended that order in 2007.
The withdrawal order will be published in the Federal Register on Monday.
Last December, the Center for Biological Diversity submitted comments supporting the withdrawal while the public hearing process was under way.
"The BLM's actions demonstrate a commitment by that agency to protect Southern Nevada's natural and cultural heritage," said Rob Mrowka, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. "It is significant action, but the threats from sprawl development, groundwater exploitation, illicit off-road vehicle use and poorly located energy projects remain and will continue to be a challenge for federal land managing agencies."
Some of the areas listed in the land withdrawal order include Amargosa mesquite trees, Ash Meadows, Arden historic sites, Arrow Canyon, Gold Butte and town site, Hidden Valley, Keyhole Canyon, Mormon Mesa tortoise habitat, Rainbow Gardens, Red Rock Spring, River Mountains, Sloan rock art and Virgin River critical areas.