| NEWS RELEASE: for immediate
release, Wed. June 26, 2002
CONSERVATIONISTS CHALLENGE NEVADA LAND SALE
RENO - Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for its plan to auction off about 6,500 acres of federal land in the Mojave Desert northeast of Las Vegas. Much of the public land in this area is designated critical habitat by the US Fish and Wildlife Service essential to the survival and recovery of the threatened desert tortoise. In the lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity (Center), the Western Land Exchange Project (WLXP) and Committee for Idaho's High Desert (CIHD) allege that the BLM has violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The groups are concerned about impacts on water supply, water and air quality, endangered species, and the combined impact of this and several other development plans on the fragile Mojave Desert. In addition to the desert tortoise, which would have its habitat bulldozed, at least five other endangered species are threatened by water mining that would occur if this public land was privatized and developed, including three native fish (Woundfin, Virgin River chub and Pahranagat roundtail chub), and two native songbirds (Southwestern willow flycatcher and Least Bell's vireo).
"Secretary Norton's blindfolded 'see no evil' approach fails to consider the harm this sale would cause to the desert tortoise and the Virgin River ecosystem," said Daniel R. Patterson, a Desert Ecologist with the Center who formerly worked with BLM in the Mojave desert.
Katie Fite of CIHD, a group with long-standing concern on Nevada public lands, is concerned that there is "no known source of water to support this development. It will take water away from rare fish and bird habitat in the Virgin River and other uses in southern Nevada."
Passed by Congress in 2000, the Lincoln County Land Act (LCLA) authorized the BLM to sell over a period of five years a total of 13,000 acres of federal land in Lincoln County, Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas and just north of Mesquite.
The environmental assessment (EA) for the project states that the first phase of the disposal alone (6,500 acres) would allow for a 13-fold increase in the county's population over the next 20 years. Yet the EA baldly states that the source of water to sustain such development has not been identified. Nor did the analysis evaluate the impact of this project in conjunction with several other privatization/development schemes in the same area, including other land sales and exchanges, two proposed water-cooled power plants, and a new regional airport.
Christopher Krupp, the WLXP staff attorney who drafted the complaint, said, "The purpose of NEPA is to provide an honest analysis of the effects of a project, alone and in conjunction with others. The BLM skirted many of the issues it is required to evaluate before offering the land for auction. The agency broke the law."
With 83 percent federal land ownership in the state, Nevada politicians have pushed aggressively for privatization and development. But the phenomenally rapid growth of Las Vegas and other southern Nevada towns has resulted in very serious air quality problems and has forced towns to look far afield for future water supplies.
"This is just one of a slew of land deals that have put many thousands of federal acres in the hands of Nevada developers," said WLXP director Janine Blaeloch. "The government needs to slow down and look some issues in the face before any more federal land is relinquished."
Both the text of the LCLA (PL 106-298) and the complaint filed in Federal District Court in Reno can be obtained by contacting the Western Land Exchange Project.