Originally published in the Las Vegas Sun
There was a great deal to like about last week’s settlement of a lawsuit involving a proposed mountain biking park on Mount Charleston. This agreement offers a model for how the vibrant outdoor recreation industry in Southern Nevada can continue to grow and prosper without harming our precious natural areas.
The case was between the Center for Biological Diversity and the operators of the Lee Canyon Ski Resort, the developers of the cycling operation. At issue were protections for the endangered Mount Charleston blue butterfly, whose habitat includes the footprint of the biking park.
In the settlement, the resort agreed to establish a construction buffer zone around the three trails that will make up the park, and also pledged to provide $250,000 to UNLV to research the blue butterfly with the goal of replenishing the population and ensuring its long-term survivability.
The outcome was a win for the butterfly, which exists only in the Spring Mountains, but also for every resident of Southern Nevada, as it will lead to the addition of a fun new outdoor recreation option that will benefit our economy.
The butterfly desperately needs help: It was designated as an endangered species in 2013, the same year when the Carpenter Fire destroyed a huge swath of its habitat, and has yet to recover.
It’s commendable that the Lee Canyon resort recognized the need to protect the insect, which plays a critical part in maintaining the ecosystem. Survival of butterflies of all types is important due to their role as pollinators: Without these insects, plant life in the desert would suffer, which would create ripple effects throughout the food chain. Butterflies and moths also are an essential source of prey for animals and for predatory insects.
Butterflies’ place in the system has grown even more important due to a steep decline in populations of bees, which also are pollinators. But because butterflies have a larger range than bees, they’re a critical component of ecosystems regardless of the size of bee populations.
“This agreement gives these special little butterflies the best possible chance of recovery,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director for the Center for Biological Diversity.” We hope it sparks further Forest Service action to limit the threats recreational use poses to Mount Charleston.”
Meanwhile, the arrival of bike trails on the mountain will be an important step for Southern Nevada’s efforts to gain more traction in the highly lucrative outdoor recreation tourism industry. That industry produces some $5 billion in economic activity annually and supports nearly 60,000 jobs. But there’s potential for more, as we can see right next door in Utah. There, the industry is generating $6.4 billion annually and employs 83,000 workers.
You don’t have to be a bicycle rider to appreciate the upcoming park at Lee Canyon, which promises to be a nice addition to our travel and tourism offerings. The park will feature three trails designed for use by beginning, intermediate and advanced cyclists, with chair lift service to the top. All told, there will be 12 miles of trails built by a company that has constructed similar parks in Bend, Ore., and Killington, Vt.
The settlement also showed what’s possible when developers and environmentalists work together and find middle ground. UNLV professor Daniel Thompson played a critical role in bringing the two sides together and helping design plans to reduce the impact on the butterfly. Thompson may very well be the butterfly’s best friend, having researched the insect extensively and championed efforts to save it.
We commend all the parties involved. As Donnelly said in a news release, “This agreement shows that conservation groups and private parties can work together to ensure recreation doesn’t come at the cost of losing imperiled species.”