The Ruby Mountains are one of the most iconic and beloved landscapes in Nevada as a place famous for its hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, and viewing of wildlife. The Rubies also provide clean drinking water to many of its surrounding communities. They are a perfect blend of a landscape that supports our survival but also provides a space to play for Nevadans and Americans alike.
As a lifelong resident of Elko County, many of my earliest memories take place in the Rubies. From learning how to fish at Angel Lake to the yearly camping and fishing trips my grandfather and I would take to South Fork Dam to hiking in Lamoille Canyon as an adult. The Rubies have served as the backdrop to many important memories.
But politicians are eyeing the Ruby Mountains for a different, far more destructive purpose: oil and gas drilling. Last year, under the leadership of Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Bureau of Land Management requested that the Forest Service analyze the impacts of opening about 54,000 acres for oil and gas leasing. Those environmental assessment findings will be released in just days. If they find “no significant impact,” this oil and gas leasing will have the go-ahead.
This administration is moving forward with opening a place close to my heart as I’m sure it is for people across this region. We already know the effects of dirty fuels expansion in this area would be detrimental for wildlife, recreation opportunity and climate disruption.
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For many families, including mine, the Rubies have served as the perfect weekend getaway location for generations. I have heard the majestic mountains in our backyard referred to as the Swiss Alps of Nevada many times, and while I have never seen the Swiss Alps in person, it isn’t hard to argue that our Rubies are just as majestic and important. The importance of the Rubies is not something that can be monetized, and opening up these lands to oil and gas leases would decimate areas of the range that hold significant importance to individual families not only in Elko County but across the state.
The economic value of places like the Ruby Mountains and public lands in general is particularly important in our state. The outdoor recreation industry contributes $12.6 billion to Nevada annually and is credited for 87,000 direct jobs. What’s even more impressive is that in Elko County alone two-thirds of the tourism base came from outdoor recreation primarily on public lands. Outdoor recreation generated an average of $165 million annually through commercial retail sales, services, lodging and personal income
Americans know public lands offer a wealth of natural wonder — spectacular vistas, amazing wildlife, rushing waters. They also offer a counter to the worsening impacts of climate change. Protecting public lands is about more than just the place. It’s about memories made, connection with the past, and hope for the future. Protected public lands drive a booming outdoor economy, but they also come with inherent value that can’t be quantified or replaced. So many of those values hit close to home for me. The Ruby Mountains hold onto my family’s history and intangible memories that, if lost, are irreplaceable.
The fact that Interior Secretary Zinke has chosen to move forward with the lease and sales, given the large public outcry and the low potential that this region has shown for oil and gas production, shows no acknowledgment by this administration of the true value of our public lands, particularly the Rubies, to those who live near them. I’m joining Nevadans and lovers of public lands everywhere in calling on Secretary Zinke to immediately halt plans to move forward with oil and gas leasing at our beloved Ruby Mountains.