A Deeper Dive Into the Conservation of the Ruby Mountains
Around the turn of the century, the forage in the Ruby Mountains was in poor shape. Fueled by the transcontinental railroad and accessibility to eastern markets, the cattle industry had exploded through the last quarter of the 19th century. Adding to the deterioration of the range by beef cattle operations, by 1900 approximately a half million migrant sheep were being run into Northeastern Nevada from Idaho. All the livestock and wildlife were suffering. Nevada cattle ranchers targeted the migrant sheep operations as the culprits in this range destruction.
To accomplish their ends and avoid a range “war”, the Nevada cattle ranchers petitioned to the Ogden Regional Office to request the Forest Service to consider creating Forest Reserves in northeastern Nevada. The Nevada ranchers saw the Forest Service as an opportunity to end itinerant livestock operations in the area and secure Nevada rangelands for the exclusive use of established Nevada ranchers. The Forest Service acted quickly to initially set aside the area on March 29, 1904, then formally established the Ruby Mountain Forest Reserve on May 3, 1906 [Presidential Proclamation. 34 Stat. 3198]. Ruby Mountains Forest Reserve was Nevada’s first protected Forest.
The first wilderness bill was introduced to congress in 1956. The Forest Service opposed this bill, wishing to preserve its administrative flexibility and viewing wilderness as antithetical to its “multiple use” management philosophy. The Wilderness Act of 1964 passed after eight hard-years of advocacy. In addition to 54 wilderness areas designated by the bill, the Wilderness Act mandated the Forest Service review other “primitive” areas for Wilderness designation- [16 U.S.C. § 1132(b)]. Wilderness advocates in Nevada were hopeful that other areas they had been working to protect since the 1950’s, like the Ruby Mountains, would also be designated wilderness. This was not to be so, because the Forest Service, both within and outside of Nevada, resisted more statutory wilderness designations. Against this anti-protection background, conservationists did manage to achieve a degree of protection with the creation of the 40,720-acre Ruby Mountain Scenic Area on January 19, 1965. The Parker v. U.S. (October 1971) decision enjoined the Forest Service from taking any action in roadless areas that would preclude subsequent wilderness designation. This decision forced the Forest Service to look at other possible areas for Wilderness designation.
In 1972 the Forest Service conducted a massive and bitterly contested Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE I). There were public hearings and comments in Nevada about the proposals. RARE I was challenged in court and the RARE II study began in 1977 and was completed in 1979. The Ruby Mountains were a prime candidate for inclusion in both RARE I and RARE II Wilderness recommendations.
For more than 40 years, individuals and organizations like Friends of Nevada Wilderness worked and advocated to realize the Wilderness Act promise of protection for Nevada’s wild places. These advocates mapped, explored, documented, testified before Congress, and submitted comments to the Forest Service on behalf of the Ruby Mountains. The Nevada Wilderness Wilderness Protection Act of 1989 designated the Ruby Mountain Wilderness to preserve the wild character of this magnificent area for future generations.
Despite the prescription of the Parker v. U.S. (October 1971) decision, “that predominant wilderness value should be preserved for consideration at the executive and congressional level,” the Forest Service issued a permit for helicopter skiing in the Ruby Mountains in 1977. That permit specifically stated that the Ruby Mountains were being managed for potential Wilderness designation and the permit would be temporary until the decision was made by Congress. The permit emphasized that the helicopter ski company would accrue no rights or interest in opposing that wilderness designation by receiving the temporary permit. This, unfortunately, would not hold true. By the time the 1989 Nevada Wilderness Bill came before Congress, the helicopter ski company had acquired a stable of wealthy and powerful clients, including filmmakers like the President of Disney and Clint Eastwood. It took little effort for these influential people to compromise the protection of the north end of the Ruby Mountain Wilderness by gerrymandering the boundary to accommodate helicopter landing sites and snowcat recovery routes, an assurance their favorite, exclusive skiing experience would remain available.
A Deeper Dive Into the History of the Ruby Mountains
Peter Skene Ogden:
The Ruby Mountains entered into history in the cold December of 1828. Peter Skene Ogden arrived on the Humboldt River in November of that year as part of the “scorched stream” policy of the Hudson Bay Company. The British and the United States were jointly occupying the Oregon Territory as a result of the Convention of 1818. The Hudson Bay Company believed if they could deplete the beaver supply of the Snake River System, this would discourage the American trappers from entering the region and allow Britain to retain permanent possession of the entire Oregon Territory. On the morning of December 10th, Ogden’s party crossed over the frozen Humboldt River west of present town of Elko and, with the assistance of a local Native American guide, headed east toward the massive wall of the Ruby Mountains. On December 18th, the guide brought Ogden’s group over Secret Pass at the north end of the Ruby Mountains and directed them to a good camp in the snow-free Clover Valley at Snow Water Lake. Ogden and his party were exhausted, depleted of provisions, and near starvation. Without the assistance and knowledge of the indigenoues Americans (who were often conscripted), Ogden and his men would have perished in this remote and “unknown” region of Nevada.
Origin of the Ruby Mountains Name:
The Ruby Mountains take their name from the adjacent Ruby Valley, immediately east of the range. The valley was originally known as the Valley of the Fountains because of the ample water and numerous springs found within it. An early emigrant party (circa1850) found “ruby garnets” (red garnets) along the western side of the valley, washing down from the steep slopes of the mountains. They identified the area as the “Ruby Valley,” and the name entered into history. The Ruby Valley post office and Fort Ruby were established near the south end of the mountains in 1862. This location was the half-way point of the 600-mile Utah Territory mail route between Salt Lake City and Genoa in the Carson Valley.