The Upper Las Vegas Wash

As a member of a diverse coalition — including other environmental groups, Nellis Air Force Base, paleontologists and the National Parks Conservation Association — the Center is dedicated to protecting the Upper Las Vegas Wash through its designation as a national monument.
The area is now composed mostly of dry, eroded badlands. But at the end of the last major ice age — around 10,000 years ago — it was a great marsh ecosystem, complete with uncountable springs and home to a variety of now-extinct unique North American Pleistocene mammals. Columbian mammoths, American camels, horses and giant ground sloths fed in the lush vegetation, while the also-extinct giant jaguar and other predators hunted them for a meal. The formation once covered a large portion of the valley that is now Las Vegas, but now only a small fragment of history remains in the form of the Upper Las Vegas Wash.

The sediments of these badlands have been dated back at least 150,000 years and contain a fossilized pollen history that reflects two major changes in climate. Scientists are only beginning to analyze and consider what these changes can teach us about climate change and natural communities' adaptation to it.

The area is also critically important for providing habitat for the threatened desert tortoise, as well as the rare Las Vegas buckwheat, a species that the Center petitioned to protect under the Endangered Species Act that was subsequently found warranted for protection and placed on the candidate waiting list, as well as the Las Vegas bearpoppy, kit foxes, burrowing owls and numerous more common plants and animals.

On March 30, 2012, the Bureau of Land Management issued a final environmental impact statement and decision protecting more than 10,000 acres of these lands from further development. Much of the area had previously lost its protected status when Congress identified areas for sale to land developers as part of 2002 legislation.

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, lying to the immediate west of the Las Vegas Valley, covers 195,819 acres and hosts unique geologic features, plants and animals including desert tortoises, bighorn sheep and blue diamond cholla. The area is threatened by a proposed sprawl development that would border the national conservation area and spread up neighboring slopes to the east. While claiming to be “green,” the development would destroy habitat, waste water and energy and entail long vehicle commutes by its many residents. The Center is a member of the Save Red Rock coalition and is working with elected officials, the Bureau of Land Management and the media to address this egregious threat.


Photo of Lake Mead National Recreation Area by mandj98/Flickr.