Las Vegas — Federal authorities need to investigate mismanagement of cultural and natural resources, including off-road vehicle environmental violations and theft of skeletal remains from a historic ghost town by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Nevada, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) with Robert Abbey, the BLM Director.
The PEER complaint was prompted by the resignation of Stacey Antilla, a BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner at the southern Nevada BLM station. Ms. Antilla resigned in frustration, after her efforts to properly plan and mitigate the damage resulting from the thousand-mile “Vegas-to-Reno” off-road vehicle race across endangered Desert Tortoise habitat in the Mojave and Great Basin Deserts. BLM Tonopah manager Tom Seley refused to address documented problems from past races and ignored violations of agency policy, permit stipulations and resource law, including:
- Routing the race though sensitive desert areas rather than keeping the course on already established roads;
- Allowing heavy equipment into a desert river that is habitat to endangered species; and
- Refusing to survey and correct post-race damage.
Off-road issues were compounded by cultural resource desecration this winter. Ms. Antilla learned a tourist at the ghost town site of Rhyolite, near Death Valley National Park, found what looked like skeletal remains in one of the buildings. Despite objections from BLM volunteer site steward, BLM managers in Tonopah allowed the tourist to dig up the bones and take them away. Ms. Antilla called BLM law enforcement with the information and requested an investigation. No investigation occurred, however agency managers threatened Antilla with suspension.
“Stacey Antilla did the right thing as a BLM planner by trying to reduce the impact of the off-road race and protect cultural resources. She should have been rewarded, not run out of the agency,” said Southwest PEER Director Daniel Patterson, an Ecologist who formerly worked with BLM. “BLM should take a close look at the big problems with its management in Tonoaph.”
Prior to serving in Nevada BLM, Stacey Antilla spent years working for the BLM in Colorado, where her experience was positive. After a few years out of federal service, she wanted to return, expecting a similar experience in Nevada. Ms. Antilla was asked to sign a two-year contract, as the Nevada BLM office seemed to have a hard time retaining employees. But she resigned after one year.
“BLM needs to be able to attract and retain conscientious workers. What happened in Tonopah should not be tolerated in a public resource protection agency,” added Patterson. “We are looking to the leadership of Director Abbey to look into and correct this situation.”