Reid: We Must Protect Nevada’s Gold Butte, Lands Across America

“Congress created the Antiquities Act to empower the president to protect our cultural, historic and natural resources when and where Congress cannot – or will not. Many of our current national parks were created using this authority… Unfortunately, many Senate Republicans want to undermine the Antiquities Act. They refuse to defend our cultural and historic antiquities that are being systematically destroyed.”

“Because of trouble caused by the Bundys and their pals, the federal employees tasked with safely guarding these antiquities were prevented from doing their jobs. These employees have been under constant physical and mental threat for doing what the American people have tasked them to do.”

 “I’ve tried to protect Gold Butte for a long time. And the reason we haven’t been able to do anything to this point is that the Bundy boys and his pals. So that’s why I’m grateful for the Antiquities Act. Because of this legislation and because of the fact that the Bundys are in jail, I’m going to reach out to the White House. And there’s no guarantee we’ll get it done. We’ll see if President Obama will protect this area. He has the authority, as any president does, to stop this sort of destruction and stop it now.”

Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today about the need to protect and preserve Gold Butte in Nevada and other sites throughout the nation. Below are his remarks:

 I’m grateful that the presiding officer today is from the state of Nevada, my friend, the junior Senator from Nevada. When I think of home, I think of the desert.

You can’t talk about Nevada as a desert only, even though the vast majority of the state is a very arid place. We also have the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Ruby Mountains. We are the most mountainous state in the union except Alaska with 314 separate mountain ranges. We have 32 mountains over 11,000 feet high. We have one mountain that we share with California that is almost 14,000 feet high. It is a beautiful state.

But today, I’m going to focus on some of those arid places, places where I was born and raised. Having been back here in Washington for such a long time – 37 years – I think of the blue skies that are so prevalent in Nevada. They hover over a canvas. No one could paint a picture as beautiful as that, of these mountains in the middle of the desert, these Joshua trees or of the sagebrush.

It is that beauty that’s drawing thousands of visitors to Nevada and Nevada’s wilderness every year. Yesterday, the Reno Gazette-Journal wrote an article reporting how important this industry is to our country:

“The big time solitude found in the big empty spaces of the western U.S. generates big money for regional economies.

 “That’s according to a study that attempts to put a dollar value on ‘quiet recreation’ on Bureau of Land Management property.

 “It found that sports like hiking and mountain biking on BLM land generated more than $1.8 billion in spending in 2014, that’s roughly equivalent to two months of gambling revenue in Las Vegas casinos.”

Our public lands are jewels that we must protect.

To its credit, the Bureau of Land Management and their dedicated employees do a remarkable job in safeguarding these national treasures so that Americans can enjoy them.

When I was first elected, the Bureau of Land Management was on par with the internal revenue service. No one liked them. Now they are admired. They’ve done a remarkably good job to take care of public lands.

John Sterling, the Executive Director of The Conservation Alliance, told the Reno Gazette-Journal, quote:

“The BLM is the final frontier for a primitive experience on our public lands. They represent the future of outdoor recreation.”

Most Americans are familiar with what happened earlier this year in Oregon. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon was taken over. A dangerous group of militants staged an armed takeover of the refuge, they came with their canvas shirts and their camouflage pants and their guns and their all-terrain vehicles to take over the federal property. And they did. They damaged the refuge to the tune of about, maybe $20 million: defecating on some of the ruins in the facility and stopping the Native Americans from being able to do their annual fishing.

This particular episode of domestic terrorism has roots in Nevada, I’m sorry to say. They were led by the sons of Cliven Bundy. Cliven who, as we speak, is where he should be – in jail. Two of his sons are in jail, too, having participated in the unlawful takeover. Cliven Bundy is a Nevadan who has been breaking federal laws for decades.

I’m disappointed that some of my colleagues supported this outrageous lawbreaker. Teddy Roosevelt created this national wildlife refuge in Oregon. This radical president, Theodore Roosevelt – and I say that sarcastically because he wasn’t. He was a great president. He created this refuge in 1908. Roosevelt used the tools at his disposal as president – including the Antiquities Act – to protect our national heritage so that generations of Americans could enjoy it.

Congress created the Antiquities Act to empower the president to protect our cultural, historic and natural resources when and where Congress cannot – or will not. Many of our current national parks were created using this authority. In fact, 16 presidents – eight Democrats and eight Republicans – have used this authority to protect these lands for the benefit of the American people. Even George W. Bush used the Antiquities Act.

Unfortunately, many Senate Republicans want to undermine the Antiquities Act. They refuse to defend our cultural and historic antiquities that are being systematically destroyed. But that is why the Antiquities Act was created – to safeguard against these threats in the absence of Congressional action.

Take, for example, Gold Butte, the area where Cliven Bundy illegally grazed his cattle. It is a stunning landscape.

Is this worth protecting? Look at it. Is this worth protecting? This is not doctored up, colored. That’s the way it is. We don’t get a lot of clouds in Nevada, especially this part of Nevada. It doesn’t happen often, but this is part of the greatness of Nevada. Look at that. Is that worth preserving?

Of course it is. This has such magnificent areas. Sandstone formations like this, petroglyphs dating back thousands of years.

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Take a look at this: Petroglyphs. These Indian writings and drawings are centuries old. They’re in the area that we want to protect: Gold Butte. Look at that. Panel after panel of this magnificent part of history.

But because of trouble caused by the Bundys and their pals, the federal employees tasked with safely guarding these antiquities were prevented from doing their jobs. These employees have been under constant physical and mental threat for doing what the American people have tasked them to do. Petroglyphs are being destroyed, drawn over, shot at and stolen.

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This is one such example. The white area in the middle was vulgar graffiti that experts attempted to remove. Just underneath, you can see bullet-holes. People have used this petroglyph as target practice.

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The final picture I want to show is the Joshua tree damage. I know a lot of about Joshua trees because in Searchlight we have tone of the thickest Joshua forests in the world.

These trees are so stunning. They grow about two inches a year. They last for up to 150 years. People don’t understand these trees are so terrific. They have been brutalized by these criminals. Someone chopped this one down. This tree, we don’t know how old it was, but 100 years old probably, 80 years old. Look at that beautiful tree behind it. So that’s really unfortunate, but that’s what they do. They just destroy. This is sad.

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I’ve tried to protect Gold Butte for a long time. And the reason we haven’t been able to do anything to this point is that the Bundy boys and his pals. So that’s why I’m grateful for the Antiquities Act. Because of this legislation and because of the fact that the Bundys are in jail, I’m going to reach out to the White House. And there’s no guarantee we’ll get it done. We’ll see if President Obama will protect this area. He has the authority, as any president does, to stop this sort of destruction and stop it now.

Threats to our public lands are threats to our economy, our environment and our culture. When we preserve our lands, we preserve America, and that’s what we’re trying to do: Preserve this beautiful, beautiful place.

I say again, is this worth protecting? Is this worth preserving? Of course it is.