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Gold Butte | Fighting to protect ancient land in Nevada

Environmentalists and Native American tribes are working together to get the Gold Butte area named a National Monument so that those who visit won't destroy what ancient people left behind. 11/21/16 (Denise Rosch | KSNV)

It's an area rich in petroglyphs and unmatched beauty. But some say, Gold Butte, northeast of Las Vegas, is in trouble.

Environmentalists and Native American tribes are working together to get the area named a National Monument so that those who visit won't destroy what ancient people left behind.

“It's alive. It's very much alive,” said Fawn Douglas. “There's a lot of food here, there's medicine all over the area.”

Douglas is a member of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, and Gold Butte offers a glimpse into her own past. Petroglyphs found there are thousands of years old.

“When people are singing in Paiute, they're reminding the spirit about this area, reminding them how to come home,” she said.

Gold Butte is just a two-hour drive east of Las Vegas. It encompasses nearly 350,000 acres of conservation land and wilderness, managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The trouble is, vandals have found their way to the somewhat isolated land. A camper was photographed chopping down a Joshua Tree and graffiti and bullet holes scar the rock walls.

Jiana Moan, Executive Director for the non-profit: “Friends of Gold Butte”, has been fighting to protect the land for 15 years.

“It's kind of like, we're running out of time. Just with the increase in population in the southwest, more and more people are getting outside and enjoying these beautiful places, that's great. We want that to happen, but we want that to happen in a way that's healthy for the landscape as well,” said Moan.

Time may be running out in Washington too.

“Friends of Gold Butte” asked President Obama to designate the area a national monument before he leaves office in January. Similar to what he did for the Tule Springs Fossil Beds in Las Vegas two years ago.

“The longer we wait to protect this land, the more degradation it's going to see,” said Moan.

It was also two years ago Gold Butte made headlines for all of the wrong reasons. A tense stand-off in the area between rancher Cliven Bundy and the BLM over grazing rights. Federal Agents eventually backed out and didn’t return to the area until summer 2016. With no oversight, some say vandalism has gone unchecked.

“When I see this stuff, it's a travesty,” said William Anderson, with the Moapa band of Paiutes.

Anderson says designating Gold Butte a national monument is a good start. Rock art depicting tortoises, big horned sheep, even the sun and water are sacred to his tribe.

“It'll allow us to work more with the government, our native tribes, to work with the government towards a better way to protect the land,” said Anderson.

Unfortunately, ancient travelers aren’t the only ones who have left their mark on the land. Names are now scratched into the rock, now there forever. They have no cultural significance, they’re just graffiti.

“If I was to go to some old church and start carving into the wall and do that, I'd be arrested,” said Anderson.

Elsewhere in Gold Butte, there are remnants of 1930s era ranching. An old horse trough, a rock dam, both are still standing. But a nearby shelter build by the Civil Conservation Corps is repeatedly tagged.

“This has been cleaned a couple of times but it keeps happening,” said Moan.

Moan says a national designation will come with advantages. Restrooms and designated campsites could be built. It would keep public lands public, but also protected.

“Anybody who lives in Nevada should claim this and feel proud of it,” said Douglas.

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