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Various concerns expressed related to ACEC

April 20, 2017 GMT

LAUGHLIN — Comments on the Bureau of Land Management’s Area of Critical Environmental Concern management plan ranged from questions related to economics to protecting cultural aspects and wildlife, the desert tortoise in particular. The BLM held an open house on April 12 to get feedback as they move forward with developing a plan for the ACEC.

Several members of local tribes attended the meeting to express concerns about how the area would be managed. Other Laughlin residents asked questions about how the management plan relates to the resource management plan and being able to continue some activities in certain areas.

The BLM has been holding open meetings to garner feedback from residents in areas in the ACEC including Las Vegas and Searchlight. Commentary is encouraged through May 31, then there will be focus groups including having a tribal consultation and more meetings.

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Project manager Susanne Rowe said she hopes to have a draft of the management plan by January of next year. There will be more meetings to discuss and review that plan. It will be at least two years before a plan is ready, she continued.

Shonna Dooman, assistant field manager for the BLM, opened the meeting. She discussed what the management plan is and isn’t, what it will and won’t do. The management plan is what will be done in the ACEC in terms of restoration and recreation, she said. Examples may be noting what areas need restoration or a certain parcel will be marked for certain recreation, she continued.

Dooman said what is not part of the plan is changing the boundaries of the area or whether or not the desert tortoise should be delisted from the threatened species list. The Department of Fish and Wildlife would make that determination, she added.

There appeared to be some initial confusion thinking that developing the management plan meant that parcels within the ACEC would be developed commercially. Dooman said that is not what is planned or intended. That type of development would be a different kind of plan and would mean changing the boundary of the ACEC, which is not happening.

Dooman said the original resource management plan, RMP, created in 1998 gave very broad ideas of what can or can’t happen in the ACEC. The management plan would be much more specific in nature and will show how the RMP will be implemented on the ground, she continued.

Bob Bilbray attended the meeting and had some of his own questions. Bilbray is a local business owner and is a member of the Laughlin Economic Development Corporation.

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Bilbray asked about what the process would be like for getting a portion of the ACEC boundary changed so Laughlin can do some development. He was told he needs to go to the fish and wildlife because that department is who can change the designation for the desert tortoise. Bilbray said he doesn’t speak for the community but a lot of time has been spent on a resource management plan but it won’t mean much unless the designation can be changed in some way.

Many comments from the tribal members focused on the importance of protecting the animals, not only the desert tortoise. There were references made to a situation near Ivanpah, Nev., related to the removal of tortoises and how that meant killing many animals. The removal was for a solar project.

Ronald Van Fleet, Sr., of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, said he and others were present to speak for the animals who can’t speak for themselves. He also talked about the lands still being sacred for the tribes.

Charles Wood, chairman for the Chemehuevi Tribe, expressed some initial concerns but after looking at what is being proposed he felt satisfied that there wouldn’t be issues caused. He said he was still concerned with the idea of accepting 300 vehicles for recreational uses into the ACEC.

Philip Smith, of the Chemehuevi Tribe, said those areas are still traditional Indian lands. The tribes aren’t there anymore but not because they left. They were removed by the military, he added, so it’s hard for tribal members at times.

The conversation focused on what would or would not be allowed in the ACEC and that areas around Searchlight and other locations are not part of the ACEC, allowing for certain recreational activities. A detailed permitting process is required even for areas not in the ACEC.

The process is ongoing and written comments are encouraged. Send comments to Bureau of Land Management, ATTN: Piute-Eldorado ACEC Plan, 4701 N. Torrey Pines Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89130.