Featured Wilderness: The Art of Compromise in Wild Nevada

“A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece.”

--Ludwig Erhard, Chancellor, West Germany, 1963-66

Nevada is known more for its arid climate, Mojave Desert Joshua trees and sagebrush-covered basins, than coldwater streams and high altitude lakes. But tucked into its northwest corner is Pine Forest, a unique mountain range whose foothills border the Black Rock Desert and whose peaks rise over 9,000 feet. This area has long been a destination for hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts, as it boasts the only alpine lakes in the region and is habitat for rainbow trout, sage grouse, and big game wildlife.  Many of the streams in the range may even support the reintroduction of native Lahontan cutthroat trout.

Today there is an effort under way to permanently protect two of the range's wilderness study areas (WSAs) as designated wilderness—Alder Creek and Blue Lakes. In 2010, Field & Stream named the Blue Lakes area one of its “Best Wild Places,”  writing, “...their value to anglers in the area is immeasurable. But, perhaps more importantly, is the value to the region for sportsmen all over America—it's perhaps the best region to visit if you're a chukar hunter, and if you're interested in mule deer, pronghorn or bighorn sheep hunting, this is the corner of Nevada you'll want to hit in search of big game.... The lakes themselves provide a high-quality backcountry fishing experience in a designated wilderness study area.” 

Equally spectacular as the location is the community effort to protect Alder Creek and Blue Lakes.  In early 2010, a working group was organized and sponsored by Trout Unlimited (TU) and Jim Jeffress, a lifelong Nevadan and retired Nevada Department of Wildlife staffer working for TU. Its goal was to examine land use and protection needs of these wilderness study areas and surrounding land.  Comprised of a diverse mix of public land users representing a broad array of interests, the group held a series of meetings and field trips to the area. The groups included  livestock grazing permittees, private landowners, sportsmen, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, federal, state and local governments officials,  concerned citizens, and wilderness advocates like the Friends of Nevada Wilderness and the Nevada Wilderness Project

Ultimately, the working group reached an agreement on the best land use for the area, which included supporting protection for more than 27,000 acres of wilderness in the Pine Forest Range.  They also suggested specific boundary changes to the WSAs, to open or close some of the traditionally used roads, and to exchange private lands adjacent to the proposed wilderness for BLM lands elsewhere. Those private lands would then be included in the wilderness. Recommendations were made to improve land management and wilderness boundaries for the range, and to address the needs of people living near the range whose livelihoods depend on those public and private lands.

The process culminated in the fall of 2010, when the Humboldt County Commission unanimously approved a resolution supporting wilderness protection, along with all the other recommendations.  From there it went to Nevada's congressional delegation, who, on November 2nd, introduced legislation to designate 26,000 acres of the Pine Forest Range as wilderness.

For members of the working group, it was a powerful experience. They succeeded because a variety of stakeholders and interests reached across the aisle to craft solutions the entire group could support.  All sides ultimately understood that wilderness and responsible use are not mutually exclusive. The participants wanted to make something happen that would fit the needs of the entire group—from  ranchers, to hunters and anglers, to off-road vehicle enthusiasts and conservationists. 

“It was fun working together with such great people who care so much about the land,” says Shaaron Netherton, Executive Director of Friends of Nevada Wilderness. “In a divisive political situation nationally, it's heartening to see Nevadans working together. I'm sure the congressional delegation is thrilled with consensus. The consensus proposal combined the Alder Creek and Blue Lakes wilderness study areas into a single Pine Forest Range Wilderness area and added and subtracted acres to form a common-sense boundary that everyone could get behind.”

Today, the Nevada congressional delegation, in partnership with Humboldt County and local stakeholders, is moving closer to protecting the Pine Forest Range. The proposal enjoys strong bipartisan backing, and legislation may yet be introduced this year. This broad support is a testament to the fact that most everyone who visits the high lakes and cool forests of the range can see that it is an important natural treasure that deserves to be protected for the future. Recognizing this, members of the Pine Forest task force—ranchers, hunters, anglers, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, and Nevada wilderness advocates—put aside their differences and worked together to preserve the common ground they all love.