RENO, Nev. — Federal land managers say their preferred plan to manage 3.1 million acres of public land in southern Nevada would balance resource development and protection.
The Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comment until Jan. 7 on its draft resource management plan for Clark and southern Nye counties. The agency also has scheduled a series of public meetings on the plan in November.
Among other things, the agency's preferred alternative would create solar energy zones, encourage wind energy development in open areas and designate corridors for power lines and pipelines.
It also would create 20 new areas of critical environmental concern totaling over 275,000 acres and expand the size of existing ones. Such areas receive a higher level of protection.
"We think our preferred alternative offers the best balance," BLM spokesman Lee Kirk told The Associated Press. "It balances resource protection with development."
Another alternative would place greater emphasis on resource protection, while another would place more stress on resource development and vehicle access. A final alternative would take no action and continue policies under the current resource management plan, adopted in 1998.
Jennifer Dickson, spokeswoman for The Wilderness Society, said an initial review shows the plan makes some significant improvements concerning how renewable energy projects are developed on public land.
The BLM is proposing a more targeted approach to solar and wind development by refining areas open to development and identifying areas where sensitive resources may make development difficult, she said.
But the agency is proposing to protect only a small fraction of wilderness-quality land in the region, she said. Such unspoiled land should be managed to protect its wilderness quality and provide primitive recreation experiences such as hiking and wildlife viewing.
"The BLM is off to a good start identifying wilderness-quality lands in the Gates to the Grand Canyon region ... but there are substantially more areas where the BLM should acknowledge wildland values in the region and commit to protecting them in the final plan," Dickson said in a statement.
Nevada Cattlemen's Association President Ron Torell said while his organization hasn't had a chance to review the document yet, it supports the multiple-use concept for public lands.
Ranchers acknowledge the BLM's challenge of managing the lands for different uses, he said, but want to know how the proposed new areas of critical environmental concern and other changes would affect them.
"Any time you put restrictions on those rangelands it's going to affect ranching operations," Torrel said. "We want to be good stewards of the land, but we also want to examine the effect on the sustainability of the livestock industry."
Public meetings on the plan are set for Nov. 3 in Laughlin, Nov. 5 in Henderson, Nov. 6 in Amargosa Valley, Nov. 12 in Las Vegas and Nov. 13 in Pahrump.
The plan would guide the BLM's management of the region for the next 15 years or so.