The proposed Tobin Crest Wilderness. Photo by Kirk Peterson
Friends of Nevada Wilderness is proud to work with Senator Dean Heller and Senator Harry Reid on a comprehensive lands bill for Pershing County that aims to conserve important areas as wilderness and provide robust economic development for the County. We applause the Senators for working together in a bipartisan manner to find a Nevada-based solution that will balance conservation with economic development. This bill will ensure the permanent protection of 162,000 acres of wilderness, while also resolving the checkerboard land issue.
Beginning over a decade ago, Pershing County has sought to resolve the status of checkerboard lands, wilderness study areas, and other public lands issues within the county. The goal of these efforts has been to provide new opportunities for economic development and protect areas of significant ecological value.
In March 2016, Senator Dean Heller introduced a discussion draft of the Pershing County Economic Development and Conservation Act.
Following a series of meetings, discussions, and visits with and between Pershing County officials and local residents, Senator Heller and Senator Reid introduced the Pershing County Economic Development and Conservation Act of 2016 (S. 3102) in late June of 2016. We are optimistic that the Nevada congressional delegation will work towards its passage by the end of the year.
Tobin Crest Wilderness will protect a critical wildlife and landscape corridor that assures habitat and genetic diversity for the wildlife of this region. This area is also recognized as prime Greater Sage-Grouse habitat. The rugged and wild Tobin Crest runs from north to south and is characterized by heavily altered sedimentary rock and outcroppings of shale and slate. Exceptionally tall sagebrush, growing extensively throughout the region, helps to smooth the landscape with a green tinge, while numerous wildflowers and other high alpine vegetation bring spots of bright color. Flowing water travels through the Tobin Crest canyons which creates a lush desert ecosystem unique from the surrounding landscapes and brings a variety of wildlife to this area. Extensive outdoor recreational opportunities abound here - from hiking, camping, hunting and horse-packing. Great views of the surrounding desert await hikers who make it to the upper reaches of the crest.
Augusta Mountains Wilderness is an incredible range dotted with canyons, drainages, and isolated patches of pinyon-juniper forests. Cain Mountain, the highest point of the range, overlooks the rolling hills and sagebrush valley below. The proposed wilderness boundary encompasses rugged canyons where visitors can explore to their heart's content, gazing at ancient fossils and seasonal waterfalls.
Bluewing Wilderness is flanked on the east by Granite Springs Valley and on the west by Sagehen Valley, where a small playa sits at the base of the range. Softly rounded hills rise from the valley floor, where pronghorn and jackrabbits can be found and Horned Larks and Black-throated Sparrows can be heard singing in the early morning light. The range is not marked by any steep topography, making hiking easy. Solitude is easy to find in the rounded and folded hills and small mountain which forms this exquisite range.
Fencemaker Wilderness makes up the northern end of the beautiful Stillwater Range. Its higher elevations are covered in pinion pines and juniper trees while its rugged limestone topography has created dramatic cliffs and deep canyons. Fencemaker is truly a place of spectacular beauty and unique natural values, a top destination for those seeking splendid scenery and a wild escape from the outside world. Wildlife is plentiful here, including antelope, mule deer, and desert bighorn. Rugged terrain creates an excellent habitat for such creatures, providing numerous small shelters and caves which are likely used as dens.
Mt. Limbo Wilderness straddles the southern tip of the Selenite Mountains and hosts a diversity of geologic wonders, outdoor recreational opportunities, and native plants. Elevations range here from 3,880 to 8,237 feet and its granite rocks, basaltic flows, and alluvial fans make for an interesting landscape perfect for backcountry exploration. Visitors can choose to summit its three peaks - Kumiva Peak, Mount Limbo and Purgatory Peak - or explore the shallow drainage systems and granite outcrops that dot the proposed wilderness boundary. Wildlife abound in Mt. Limbo's aspen groves and meadows that lie along the drainages in the Kumiva Peak area.
North Sahwave Wilderness provides outstanding views of several Wilderness Study Areas, the Black Rock National Conservation Area, and down onto the white spectacle of Bluewing Flat, a large dry lakebed. The groves of juniper provide cover not only to the wildlife of the region, but also to the hiker looking to get out of the midday sun or late afternoon zephyr. This is spectacular Northern Nevada basin and range country where solitude and primitive recreational opportunities abound - whether one is scrambling along the mountain range’s rocky outcroppings, searching for bighorn sheep among the cliff areas, or taking in the seemingly endless vistas.
When work began on the transcontinental railroad in 1863, the federal government granted railroad companies ownership of every other square mile of land across the west, keeping the squares in between. The grant allowed railroads to pay for construction by selling their sections. This checkerboard land ownership pattern still stretches across the northern portion of Nevada in a broad band along the 1-80 west corridor. In other states, the alternate sections moved into private ownership as time passed and the state developed. However, in Nevada, arid conditions, topography, soils, sparse population and other factors contributed to the lack of demand for the alternate sections.
The checkerboard ownership pattern that persists today presents significant conservation and land management challenges for the state of Nevada.
The Pershing County Economic and Development Act seeks to resolve the checkerboard pattern in Pershing County by allowing for an easy acre-for-acre exchange process within the checkerboard area. This exchange process will help consolidate blocks of land for easier management and development uses. Sections owned by the BLM along the interstate could be swapped for privately owned sections in other areas that would benefit wildlife or outdoor recreation.
This exchange process would resolve the checkerboard lands in Pershing County - allowing for development along parts of the 1-80 corridor while consolidating public lands in other areas for public use and wildlife habitat protection.