Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has filed a bill that would lay out a plan for development of public lands around Las Vegas over the next several decades.
The Southern Nevada Economic Development and Conservation Act attempts to strike a balance between regulating urban sprawl and protecting Southern Nevada’s environment.
It would earmark more than 2 million acres of public land for environmental protection while opening up 30,663 developable acres around Las Vegas.
“It is vital that we preserve the incredible outdoor spaces that provide immense economic, cultural and ecological value to Southern Nevada, while also allowing Las Vegas and its surrounding communities to diversify their economies and provide additional affordable housing to Nevada families,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.
Companion legislation has been filed in the U.S. House by Rep. Dina Titus. Both versions of the legislation have the backing of Nevada’s entire congressional delegation.
“This legislation will protect more of Nevada’s wildlife and natural treasures for generations to come,” Titus said in a statement. “Today we are demonstrating that it is possible to accommodate Clark County’s population growth while prioritizing affordable housing and the environment.”
The bill would designate over 1.3 million acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and 337,406 acres elsewhere in Clark County as wilderness. A wilderness designation protects areas from most development.
The bill would also designate 350,000 acres as special management area to conserve habitat for protected species like the desert tortoise.
It sets aside another 121,000 acres for use by off-road vehicles and would expand the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area by 51,000 acres.
“Red Rock is Southern Nevada’s crown jewel, and this bill recognizes how important these public lands are to locals and visitors alike,” said Heather Fisher, president of Save Red Rock, a conservation group.
Clark County Commission Chairman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said the bill takes a “balanced approach, allowing for the preservation of our critical natural resources as well as understanding the need for orderly growth.”
Some conservationist groups have been critical of the bill, saying it would allow urban sprawl to continue around Las Vegas. Others have spoken in favor of the legislation, including including Save Red Rock, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, and the Conservation Lands Foundation.
“This legislation would be a historic conservation achievement for our state and provide much needed economic diversification, affordable housing solutions, and a new source of funding for Nevada’s sustainability and climate initiatives,” said Jocelyn Torres, senior field director for the Conservation Lands Foundation.