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Commissioners oppose Black Rock plan

by Christy Chalmers

Citing their tattered faith in the federal government, Douglas County leaders are opposing creation of a national conservation area in Northern Nevada.

The designation, proposed by U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., would affect an estimated 600,000 acres in the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon area north of Gerlach in Washoe County. Though Douglas County sits about 200 miles south of the area, commissioners said Thursday they’re opposed based on principle.

“I would have more trust if Sen. Bryan were going to continue,” said Commissioner Bernie Curtis. “I don’t think there’s a high degree of trust in the federal government.”

“We don’t trust this Secretary of the Interior, and I doubt we’ll trust the next one,” said Commission Chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen.

Bryan, whose term expires in December, has decided not to run again. Plus, the Douglas commission has been fighting the U.S. Forest Service over land use issues at Lake Tahoe. The commission in 1998 accused the Forest Service of secretly killing plans to open buildings at a lakeside estate after promising to support public access, and commissioners said they’re weary of unreturned phone calls and what they consider the unaccountability of federal officials.

Skeptics are worried that national conservation area status will lead to restrictions on recreation and other popular uses in the Black Rock area. They also think the Pine Nut mountain range, which straddles the Douglas-Lyon county line, could be next for federal scrutiny.

The commission’s stance dismayed Bryan’s top Nevada spokesman, Tom Baker, who said the proposal will mean better management of the area, not more restrictions.

“We are not talking about taking anything out of it. What it does do is give you extra tools and extra labor you need to get the job done,” he said. “It enhances the quality of the resource. It does so many positive things, with so little downside.”

But Baker’s assurances were not enough. Commissioner Don Miner called the current draft proposal “pure vanilla” that could easily morph into a restrictive and irrevocable mandate. Commissioner Steve Weissinger noted more than a dozen laws and acts already apply to the Black Rock area.

“I just have a hard time believing we need a national conservation area designation in addition to those 16 layers that are already there,” he said.