A bill that would permanently ban oil and gas leasing in the Ruby Mountains got its first hearing Tuesday afternoon in the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.
“This area of my home state is truly a hidden gem,” said S. 258 sponsor Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada. “The landscape and outdoor recreation opportunities bring thousands of visitors from across the state, the country and the world.”
Cortez Masto explained the recent application for drilling and its rejection last week by the U.S. Forest Service.
“The prospect of oil and gas leasing in the rubies sparked a public outcry from people of all walks of life and across the political spectrum,” she said. “The Ruby Mountains, often referred to as Nevada’s Swiss Alps, are treasured by all Nevadans, with an overwhelming majority advocating for the prohibition of oil and gas activities.”
The recent decision applied to about 52,000 acres in the Ruby Mountains, but Cortez Masto’s Ruby Mountains Protection Act would protect the entire 450,000-acre range.
Masto questioned why the Forest Service was not supporting the bill.
“I’m concerned particularly about this Administration playing politics with this, instead of doing the right thing,” she said. “This is supported by Nevadans, it is supported by outdoorsmen and recreational folks, it is a benefit to the economy. Even your Forest Service administrator on the ground has said that, which is why you ruled that oil and gas leasing is not appropriate.”
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-West Virginia, also mentioned that the Trump administration has expressed concerns about withdrawing lands from mineral development in Nevada as well as New Mexico and Oregon.
“But I think the sponsors have identified important cultural areas and habitat that merit protection, so I look forward to working with the sponsors and my colleagues to find a way to move these bills forward,” he said.
Cortez Masto said the legislation has the support of the Te-Moak Tribe, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Nevada Conservation League, the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Patagonia, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, and the Sportsmen for the Rubies.
The Elko-based Sportsmen for the Rubies, a coalition of 14 hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation groups representing thousands of individual sportsmen and women, expressed appreciation after the subcommittee hearing.
“The Rubies are an incredible fish and wildlife resource as well as an economic engine for rural Nevada, said Pam Harrington, Nevada field coordinator with Trout Unlimited. “We are pleased the Nevada delegation is working with the sportsmen’s community to protect the Rubies.”
“Sportsmen and women throughout Nevada appreciate the subcommittee’s timely hearing on this bill,” said Tom Smith, vice president of the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife. “We hope that leadership will commit to a markup and move this legislation to the floor for passage, so that future generations can enjoy the Ruby Mountains as we do today.”