Guest column:

Do your part to conserve public lands

Southern Nevada is home to world class opportunities to enjoy America’s public lands. From well-known places like Red Rock National Conservation Area to hidden gems like Buffington Pockets or the Last Chance Range, one of the many beauties of these special areas is that they belong to you and me, available to us for a variety of uses such as hiking, horseback riding and wildlife viewing. They are our public lands, and as executive director of the Outside Las Vegas Foundation, my team and I believe that getting Las Vegans out and about to enjoy our cherished public lands is an important component of our quality of life and sense of place.

Foundational to this work is ensuring that these public lands are managed in a common sense way that balances recreation (both motorized and nonmotorized), development and conservation. Currently, the Bureau of Land Management — the steward of many of Nevada’s public lands — is accepting public comments for a long-term management plan that would chart where and how our public lands will be used over the next 20-30 years. I encourage you to participate in this process and make your voice heard as the agency prepares a draft plan for public review.

Las Vegas has experienced incredible growth in the past couple of decades, and we should expect more. The Las Vegas-Paradise metropolitan area is one of the fastest growing areas in the country, and according to Forbes magazine, our population is expected to increase 67 percent by 2042 (described as being “one of the largest expected population booms in the United States”). While water availability is of perennial concern, this growth should not come at the expense of our favorite recreation areas, important wildlife habitat or iconic scenic vistas. The BLM has a challenging task in ensuring that our desert mountains and valleys remain intact under increasing pressure.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, almost 60 percent of Nevada’s residents participate in outdoor recreation each year. Recreation is a powerhouse for the local economy that includes $12.6 billion in consumer spending and contributes $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue. As the managers of the public land where much of this recreation occurs, the BLM would be wise to emphasize maintaining or enhancing recreation opportunities that are compatible with the various conservation objectives we have in Southern Nevada.

Having worked with Southern Nevadans to enjoy and benefit from the incredible resource of our public lands, I know how much you care about our surrounding desert and mountains. Now is your opportunity to tell the BLM about the importance of conserving our public lands. The bureau needs to hear from Nevadans about the value of land conservation, and it’s accepting your comments until Feb. 2. Please take a moment to participate in this this important public process. Without our voices shaping the future of our public lands, we will lose what we have. But with your participation, we can build a vision and management plan that will serve our interests and benefit us for years to come. It’s time to take off the hiking boots and pick up a pen to conserve our public lands.

Mauricia Baca is executive director of the Outside Las Vegas Foundation.