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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Stop the Choppers, Environmentalists Say

LAS VEGAS (CN) - Environmental watchdogs want to stop Las Vegas Metropolitan Police search and rescue teams from training with helicopter flights in La Madre Mountain and Rainbow Mountain Wilderness in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, 12 miles west of Las Vegas.

Missoula, Mont.-based Wilderness Watch, represented by the firm of Faegre & Benson and the Western Center on Environmental Law, says the Bureau of Land Management's decision to let police train its crews on helicopter searches "must be reversed because it violates the Wilderness Act" and "would destroy the wilderness character of the La Madre Mountain Wilderness and Rainbow Mountain Wilderness."

Las Vegas police requested in 2005 that they be allowed to conduct motorized search and rescue training in the areas. BLM approved the request in 2007.

The areas are home to chain ferns reaching 6 feet high and ponderosa pine.

"Rainbow Mountain Wilderness contains microclimates that support endemic plant communities," says the complaint. "Chain ferns reaching six feet high and stands of ponderosa pine can be found in the deep, cool canyons. Rainbow Mountain Wilderness also contains high concentrations of prehistoric rock art and cultural resources, including

pictographs, petroglyphs, agave roasting pits, and rock shelters."

Bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise also live there.

"Very few of the nation's major metropolitan centers are fortunate enough to have wilderness areas within such close proximity," the lawsuit states. "These areas are an oasis from the noise and commotion of Las Vegas, granting the people of the (Las Vegas) and elsewhere the possibility of outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation."

Wilderness Watch accuses BLM of preparing insufficient environmental assessments and failing to prepare a meaningful environmental impact statement before allowing police to fly helicopters in and out of the area.

They say the agency is violating its own regulations, which "prohibit the landing of aircraft and use of motorized vehicles in wilderness" areas.

Wilderness Watch is represented by Jonathan Dettman with Faegre Benson.

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