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Getting the word out: Trout Unlimited and other groups discuss Ruby Mountain oil drilling

ELKO – What impact would drilling or fracking have on the Ruby Mountains? Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation discussed the possibilities in a meeting that brought attendees of various political affiliations together.

Nearly 70 people attended the Jan. 17 meeting in Dalling Hall. It was hosted by the two conservation groups and included placards of maps, graphs and information describing the location of parcels within the Ruby Mountains and the impact of drilling and fracking on wildlife habitat.

The goal was to inform the community and encourage discussion ahead of a U.S. Forest Service decision on whether to open portions of the Ruby Mountains to oil and gas leasing, said Pam Harrington of Trout Unlimited.

“I think we provided people what they were seeking,” she said. ‘It couldn’t go any better than that, as far as I’m concerned.”

Lands north of Sherman Creek and south of Lamoille Creek are designated for leasing under a 1986 management plan. In 2018, the Forest Service opened two public comment periods and garnered 13,000 comments in opposition to the proposal.

The release of draft decision has been delayed, with the latest setback attributed to the shutdown of the federal government.

Trout Unlimited, along with other conservation groups including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, scheduled meetings in Reno, Las Vegas and Elko this week in hopes of keeping the issue at the forefront of people’s minds.

“This is the time to make your voice heard, not after you’re upset when the hunting’s not there,” said sportsman Justin French. “That’s the wrong time to come into the argument.”

Patrick Donnelly, state director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said thanks to opposition from the Legislature last summer and U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the draft decision has already been delayed a year, but he wants to see the Rubies fully protected with oil and gas leasing taken off the table permanently.

“How do we prevent this from happening again? Are there long-term protections that the Rubies can have so that this doesn’t happen again?” Donnelly asked.

Some of the area — “not a ton of acreage” — targeted for leasing was burned in the Range 2 fire, Donnelly said, which “adds to the idea that these places are just too important to drill.”

“We need to let these places heal, do restoration,” Donnelly said. “’So the idea you would take a freshly burned area and then potentially expose it to road building and drilling is just crazy.”

However, should the Forest Service approve the leases, Donnelly said that as a last resort, the organization would fight the decision because the Rubies are “worth fighting for.”

“If they lease, rest assured, we will take them to court,” Donnelly said.

Te-Moak Tribe response

Treating the Ruby Mountains with respect was the theme of speakers from the Te-Moak Tribe of the Western Shoshone, who issued a resolution on Jan. 2 that asked the Forest Service “not to offer a single parcel of the Ruby Mountains for any oil or gas leasing now or at any time in the future,” stating that exploration “would possibly and irreversibly damage waters, streams, springs, aquifers, wildlife habitat and traditional gathering sites ... and potentially limit access to Harrison Pass.”

After the meeting, Davis Gonzalez, chairman of the Elko Band Council, said anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 groups of Shoshone used to roam the Ruby Mountains in the 1800s, explaining that there are sacred blessing spots and burial places that could be disturbed by someone searching for oil.

“The fracking and drilling [is] going to destroy all of that,” Gonzalez said. “They don’t know what they’re going to do. They’re going to damage that beautiful mountain that we have.”

Tribe member Mary Gibson held up a sign throughout the meeting that read “Newe Sogobia is not a resource she is our lifesource” and “Get the frack out of Daca Doya.” She said that everyone, both tribe members and non-tribe members, have something to lose if drilling and exploration were allowed in the Rubies.

“This is Western Shoshone Land. This is Newe Sogobia, the people’s mother earth,” Gibson said. “This is what Indian people depend on to live as Shoshone people.”

“All of us here know we need water, air and land to exist,” Gibson continued. ”We all depend on it, so we have to stop this in some way.”

A learning opportunity

Others in attendance were from a mix of political parties and affiliations. Congressional representatives for U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei and senators Catharine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen watched the presentation from the audience and talked with constituents, many of whom stated they were not in attendance to represent a political party but to learn more about the issue.

“It’s beautiful,” said Harrington. “[P]eople are coming together that don’t necessarily sit on the same side of the table. The Rubies are ‘a spot on the wall’ that we can all agree on being protected.”

An Elko County Democrat who declined to give his name said he attended to learn about both sides of the issue, but that he was “definitely biased against” oil exploration in the Rubies.

“I’m here to learn who are pro or con, and have some discussion in the process,” he said. “The Rubies are way too majestic and I don’t quite understand.”

Getting the facts was one of the reasons Bert Gurr, chairman of the Elko County advisory Board of Wildlife, attended Thursday night’s meeting.

“I want to see what they’re talking about so I can get an idea of where to fight, what to fight and whether there’s a reason to fight,” Gurr said before the meeting started.

Gurr said that as a Spring Creek resident who has hunted in the Rubies, he was opposed to seeing drilling structures dot the landscape of the Ruby Mountains.

“The last thing I want to see is derricks along the foothills of the Rubies,” Gurr said.

Donnelly said it has been “an eye-opening experience” discussing the issue with those who would normally oppose his organization. He added that he knows some consider his organization to be “a left-wing extreme environmental group,” but that his and his organization’s fight for the Rubies has created new relationships.

“We’ve been able to make connections with other people who we may disagree with on other issues, but we all agree that the Rubies are with fighting for and putting our differences aside for.”

Railroad spike ceremony set Jan. 25

ELKO – Union Pacific Railroad will be concluding its 150th celebration of completing the Transcontinental Railroad this spring, and a special event is planned Jan. 25 in Elko to mark the occasion.

“The Great Race to Promontory” has been helping communities along the route to celebrate the linking of east and west. Elko’s event begins at 1:30 p.m. at the Western Folklife Center. After reviewing the railroad’s remarkable history, UP spokesman Nathan Anderson will present a spike to city and county officials.

Central Pacific broke ground on the railroad in Omaha in 1863, but did not start laying rails until July 10, 1865. In 1866, the Civil War was over and an influx of labor, materials and money allowed the railroad to push through Nebraska and into the mountains in southern Wyoming, crossing the continental divide on April 5, 1868.

By 1869, the Union Pacific line had reached into Utah, where it would connect with tracks being extended eastward from California. The “Golden Spike” completing the railroad was ceremonially driven into the ground at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869.

“The driving of the final rail spike defined Union Pacific as the economic engine that connected people, moved goods and transformed America’s progress,” said Scott Moore, Union Pacific’s senior vice president of corporate relations.

The town of Elko was established in 1868 in anticipation of the Central Pacific Railroad’s arrival.

“Six months after the railroad arrived, development flourished. Elko had two banks, 45 saloons, three hardware stores, eight doctors, eight attorneys and scores of other businesses,” the railroad reported.

The public is invited to attend Elko’s commemoration at the Folklife Center, and to check out, an interactive website illustrating the historic journey.

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$10,000 reward in northern Nevada homicides

RENO — Authorities are offering a $10,000 reward in the investigation of multiple homicides in northern Nevada that investigators say may be linked.

Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam says there are similarities between the killings of an elderly man and an elderly woman who were found dead in their Reno-area home on Wednesday and two homicides in Douglas County last week near Gardnerville.

He said at a news conference Thursday multiple law enforcement agencies including the FBI are working together to determine “what, if any connection, there may be” between them.

The Reno couple killed in their home on the south edge of town was the former president of the Reno Rodeo and his wife.

The Washoe County sheriff’s office identified the homicide victims Friday as 81-year-old Gerald David and 80-year-old Sharon David.

Their bodies were discovered at about 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Balaam says both died as a result of gunshot wounds. He says it’s another similarity to the homicides of two elderly women last week in Gardnerville south of Carson City. But he says investigators still have been unable to confirm “an absolute connection” between the four killings.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports Gerald David was the president of the Reno Rodeo in 2006 and Sharon David, who went by Sherri, was an active member of the Rodeo Association.

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Products made of threatened African wildlife sold at Reno expo

RENO (AP) — Photos and video taken by animal welfare activists at a recent trophy hunting convention show an array of products crafted from the body parts of threatened big-game animals, including boots, chaps, belts and furniture labeled as elephant leather.

Vendors at the Safari Club International event held last week in Reno also were recorded hawking African vacations to shoot captive-bred lions raised in pens. The club has previously said it wouldn’t allow the sale of so-called canned hunts at its events.

The hidden camera footage was released Friday by the Humane Society of the United States. Both federal and state laws restrict the commercial sale of hides from African elephants, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Nevada’s chief game warden confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that an investigation is under way to determine if state law was violated.

Safari Club spokesman Steve Comus said Friday the group was also conducting an internal investigation after what he described as allegations based on “what appears to be an unauthorized visit” by the Humane Society. The group didn’t respond to written questions from the AP about what steps it takes to ensure exhibitors at its events are following the law.

The club denied a request earlier this month from the AP for a media credential to attend its annual conference, billed as the nation’s premier big-game hunting show.

“This hunters’ heaven has everything the mind can dream of and occupies more than 650,000 square feet of exhibit space,” the group’s website boasts. “Six continents are under one roof where SCI members come to book hunts, rendezvous with old friends and shop for the latest guns and hunting equipment.”

Humane Society investigators purchased tickets to the conference and prowled the exhibit booths with concealed cameras. They recorded racks of clothing and other products made from the hides, bones and teeth of imperiled African wildlife.

“Making money off the opportunity to kill these animals for bragging rights is something that most people around the world find appalling,” said Kitty Block, acting president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “It’s an elitist hobby of the 1 percent, and there is no place for trophy hunting in today’s world.”

The wares included oil paintings of big-game animals painted on stretched elephant skins, bracelets woven from elephant hair and an elephant leather bench. There was also a coffee table made from the skull of a hippopotamus and boxes filled with hippo teeth.

Under a state law passed in 2017, it is illegal in Nevada to purchase, sell or possess with intent to sell any item that contains the body parts of elephant, lion, rhinoceros, tiger, leopard, hippopotamus and other imperiled wildlife. A first offense is a misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $6,500 or an amount equal to four times the fair market value of the item sold, whichever is greater. Additional violations can be classified as a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Tyler Turnipseed, the state’s chief game warden, confirmed Friday his office had opened an investigation as a result of the information and images provided by the Humane Society. He said there is a learning curve when new laws are implemented and that state officials would work with the Safari Club “to try and prevent unlawful sales in future years.”

Though President Donald Trump has decried big-game hunting as a “horror show,” his administration reversed Obama-era restrictions on the importation of elephant and lion trophies for personal use or display. But federal law still prohibits the sale or use of the body parts from such international protected species for commercial purposes.

The Safari Club has actively lobbied the Trump administration to loosen restrictions on the importation of wildlife trophies, arguing that the fees paid to African countries by American hunters help to fund anti-poaching and conservation programs. A licensed two-week African hunting safari can cost more than $50,000 per person, not including airfare, according to advertised rates.

The AP reported last year that a federal advisory board created by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to advise his agency on the issue was stuffed with big game hunters. At least seven of the 16 members of the International Wildlife Conservation Council are Safari Club members, including the group’s president.

In a February 2018 media release, the Safari Club said it would no longer support the practice of breeding lions in captivity so they can be shot for trophies, saying the practice “has doubtful value to the conservation of lions in the wild.” The club also pledged not to accept advertising from the operators of such canned hunts or allow such trips to be sold at its annual convention.

In the video released by the Humane Society of Friday, multiple vendors at the Safari Club conference were recording salesmen pitching hunts of captive-bred lions in South Africa, describing how the lions would be “placed” where they could be easily shot. Vendors also described hunts where lions were baited using the meat from giraffes or other animals, with one guide bragging that a customer had shot a lion in less than 90 minutes.