Updated at 9:55 a.m. EDT.
President Obama is planning to designate a 700,000-acre national monument in rangelands of east-central Nevada, according to a document obtained by Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.) .
The six-page draft proclamation was prepared by the White House and has been circulating among federal agencies the past week, Hardy’s spokesman said, according to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The so-called Basin and Range National Monument in portions of Lincoln and Nye counties would be Obama’s largest land-based designation yet under the 1906 Antiquities Act, a conservation law that has been a target of Republicans in Congress including Hardy.
An Interior Department spokeswoman did not reply to an email last night. It’s unclear if, or when, the monument would be declared.
In January, Hardy co-sponsored a bill by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) to prohibit the president from designating national monuments in Nevada without approval from Congress.
Hardy said the Basin and Range monument would lie under the airspace of the Nevada Test and Training Range and include one of the most heavily used military operating areas in the country. The Air Force and its partners flew nearly 20,000 aircraft sorties in the area last year, exercises that would be "drastically impaired as a result of this monument designation," Hardy said.
"If the president presses forward with this initiative, it will be at the cost of national security measures and military preparedness, and will be done in direct opposition to the residents and visitors that respectfully make recreational use of this area as is," Hardy wrote in an op-ed on his website yesterday. "His initiative smacks of a lack of transparency, and is devoid of meaningful local input."
But Kristen Orthman, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has introduced legislation to withdraw more than 800,000 acres of the Basin and Range area from future mineral development, said Hardy is "getting a little bit ahead of himself."
"We will not allow those who have no interest in the protection of the Basin and Range area to demagogue it with a misinformation campaign built heavy on partisan rhetoric but short on actual facts," she said in an email to reporters last night. "Sen. Reid believes this area deserves protection — that is why he introduced legislation to do so in 2014. But in lieu of legislation, Senator Reid fully supports President Obama if he decides to designate this area, which he has the legal authority to do so."
Orthman said the Basin and Range is "uniquely Nevada" and deserves protection as "one of the most beautiful places on earth."
Reid, in fact, has been seeking the Obama administration’s help in protecting public lands in Nevada since as far back as last October, according to a letter obtained by E&E Daily (Greenwire, Jan. 20).
Reid on Oct. 24, 2014, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asking her to convene a public stakeholder meeting in Las Vegas to discuss various conservation efforts in southern Nevada, including his legislation to protect Basin and Range as well as Gold Butte and the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument.
The letter appears to have paid off. In February, Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor attended a public meeting in Las Vegas with Reid and Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) to discuss their proposals to protect more than 1 million acres of Nevada public lands.
That visit suggests monument designations for those areas are on the president’s radar. Past Obama monuments have been preceded by secretarial visits.
Reid’s bill, and the alleged monument, would also protect artist Michael Heizer’s "City," an earth sculpture that has taken decades to build and will be as large as the National Mall, according to media reports.
Heizer has used bulldozers, cranes and other heavy machinery "to reshape a slice of desert into his vision," according to the Review-Journal.
Museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston have rallied to protect the federal lands surrounding Heizer’s work.
It’s also a top campaign of conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Conservation Lands Foundation.
Permanent protection would "not only [safeguard] recreational opportunities for Nevadans but will also secure outdoor laboratories for future generations of scientists, academics and adventurers," CLF wrote in a blog entry last month.