Mark Herbert

LAS VEGAS (CN) — The Center for Biological Diversity says in a lawsuit filed Monday that nearly a decade's lack of formal management plans by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has left the Basin and Range and Gold Butte national monuments in Nevada vulnerable to neglect and degradation.

"We’re suing because the landscapes, plants, animals, and cultural resources these monuments are supposed to protect are suffering from the BLM’s continued neglect," Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “It’s time for the BLM to fulfill its duty to actively manage and protect Nevada’s national monuments.”

Both monuments, designated by President Barack Obama in 2015 and 2017 respectively, were established under the Antiquities Act to protect diverse habitats, endangered species and historical sites.

The center wants a Nevada federal court to enforce the development of management plans as explicitly required by the presidential proclamations that established the monuments. According to the center, these plans are crucial for outlining strategies to protect the natural and cultural resources within the designated areas and ensuring their preservation for future generations.

Basin and Range National Monument covers 704,000 acres 70 miles north of Las Vegas, and features unique desert and high-elevation plant communities, wildlife species, along with Native American petroglyphs and archaeological sites.

The nearby Gold Butte National Monument is notable for unique geology and archaeological sites and was established to protect rock art, fossils and the habitat of the threatened desert tortoise within its 296,937 acres.

According to the center, the case underscores a broader conversation about the stewardship of public lands and the obligations of federal agencies to maintain the integrity of national monuments, raising questions about the effectiveness of current management practices and the accountability of governmental bodies in safeguarding America's natural heritage.

"BLM has not done management plans for these areas. For Basin and Range they initiated scoping on a monument plan years ago but abandoned the effort in 2018 for reasons unknown," Donnelly told Courthouse News. "For Gold Butte, they began work on what they called an implementation plan, which is not a management plan, in 2022, but they also abandoned that. So, while there have been some efforts made, they've never followed through."

The center also highlighted the increasing visitor pressure and the accompanying environmental impact to the areas.

"Some examples of impacts to the monuments from a lack of active management include the proliferation of human waste at recreation sites due to BLM's failure to install sanitary facilities; a proliferation of unauthorized [off-highway vehicle] uses due to BLM's failure to properly regulate and enforce laws on limitations to off road vehicular travel; and the ongoing illegal cattle grazing by Cliven Bundy in Gold Butte. These impacts cause habitat degradation and destruction which threaten wildlife like the desert tortoise," Donnelly said.

Nevada Bureau of Land Management’s 2022 year-end report estimated 5,308 visits and 3,140 visitor days for Basin and Range, and noted that the numbers in 2020 were even higher, potentially because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The United States and Nevada Bureau of Land Management declined to comment on pending litigation.