Over the objections of environmentalists, federal land managers have agreed to allow a popular off-highway race from Las Vegas to Reno to pass through a new national monument next week with special restrictions including a slower, no-pass zone on existing dirt roads.
John Ruhs, Nevada state director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, approved a special recreation permit for the 640-mile race Friday despite criticism from the conservationists who say the agency is down-playing the potential ecological impacts on the Basin and Range National Monument.
The 20th annual "Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno Race" begins Friday in Alamo, about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas, and it ends the next day near Dayton, east of Carson City.
"We have done a careful evaluation of the race and built in specific mitigation measures to minimize potential impacts," Ruhs said. "The BLM is proud to provide diverse recreation opportunities on the incredible public lands we manage here in Nevada."
The mitigation includes a 35 mph speed limit on the 37-mile stretch of the route that travels through the monument that President Barack Obama designated last summer across more than 1,000 square miles northeast of Las Vegas. Racers also are prohibited from passing each other within the monument's boundaries and will be penalized if they exceed the speed limit.
The Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility had accused the agency of effectively rubber-stamping the race before a management plan and other guiding documents have even been written for the monument.
Jeff Ruch, the group's executive director, was not impressed by the mitigation measures adopted for the race, which he says has no business passing through the federally protected area. He said the agency engaged in stalling tactics before releasing an environmental assessment last month and issuing its final decision just a week before the race so as to prevent critics from filing any legal challenges.
"Imposing a 35 mph speed limit and prohibiting passing converts the race through the monument into a parade," Ruch said in an email to The Associated Press on Saturday.
"These restrictions are a backhanded acknowledgement that an off-road race is an utterly inappropriate use of the monument. I hope BLM has the sense never to route another race through the monument again," he said.