Friday, August 19, 2016

Editorial: Speed bump in the race from Vegas to Reno

Motorized racing is a great use of Nevada’s vast and rugged open spaces, so it was welcome news this week when the BLM rebuffed opponents and announced it was allowing the “Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno” race to cut through what is now the Basin and Range National Monument.

It didn’t take long for environmentalists to come up with their first challenge based on President Obama’s 2015 designation, which they claimed was designed to protect the region and therefore made it unsuitable for vehicles driving faster than 35 mph.

But Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made it clear when she praised the designation last summer that it “also preserves current uses of the land ... which will continue to be managed under existing rules and regulations.”

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility opposed the race, saying it should not be allowed to pass through the federally protected area. Never mind that the event takes place on existing roadways, and has traveled through Nevada for the past two decades without anyone noticing a body count of endangered species in its wake.

The race permit was not a total victory for the event’s organizers, however. The pressure to keep vehicles from tearing up the shoulders resulted in a compromise: drivers in the 643-mile race will have a lower speed limit and not be allowed to pass while in the 38-mile section of the monument.

“These restrictions are a backhanded acknowledgment that an off-road race is an utterly inappropriate use of the monument,” said PEER’s executive director, Jeff Ruch. “I hope BLM has the sense never to route another race through the monument again.”

Tell that to the 5,000 or so racing enthusiasts who are expected to be drawn to the event this week.
Among the supporting facts cited in the BLM’s record of decision, off-highway vehicle racing “is part of the Monument’s historical and cultural heritage ... is a legitimate use of multiple-use public lands” and its impacts are “low and temporary” compared with many other legitimate uses.

Those statements make more sense than the comments from opponents, who listed concerns such as “fugitive dust”:

“As fugitive dust settles and is deposited, sometimes far away from its origin, it coats plants and soils that can change plant communities and have ecosystem effects.”

Scary stuff. If the fuzzy-leafed ficklewort can’t handle a little dust then it picked the wrong state to plant itself in.

The BLM’s finding of no significant impact avoided the need for an environmental impact statement, but the decision specifies that it only applies to this year’s race, so expect another round of fun and games before next year’s.

What Secretary Jewell "says" is of no consequence. What Obama writes in the proclamation is what counts.

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