UPDATED 3:40 p.m. | President Barack Obama's move to designate a trio of new national monuments includes "a defining legacy" of his time in the White House.
At least, that's the way Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sees it. The Nevada Democrat has long championed one of the designations, the preservation of roughly 704,000 acres at the Basin and Range in his home state.
"I have nothing but admiration for President Obama. I appreciate more than I can put into words what he has done today to preserve the beauty of the Nevada desert for our grandchildren, their grandchildren, and generations to come. He has used his authority under the Antiquities Act to do great things all over the country and he’s not done yet. There are vast landscapes and historic treasures from Idaho to California to Oregon that have languished in Congress," Reid said in a statement. "I hope that the President will continue to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect these places."
The Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the president broad power to preserve culturally and naturally significant lands, and Obama has not shied away from taking executive action on such efforts, despite a persistent drumbeat of opposition from Republicans.
"One of the wonderful things about our use of the Antiquities Act is we've had the opportunity to engage local communities consistently throughout this process — businesses, residents, people who are profoundly attached to the land," Obama said just before signing the designations. "And as a consequence, the local communities have huge buy-in to these things and are absolutely confident that not only is it going to be a real economic spur in these areas but it's also going to be able to preserve everything that they love about the places where they live."
When it comes to the Basin and Range, the case is no different. Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican from Nevada who is running for the Senate seat Reid will vacate when he retires at the end of this Congress, accused of Obama of going significantly beyond the scope of the law in providing protection for such a massive area.
"It is beyond belief that an area larger than the state of Rhode Island is the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of this land," Heck said in a statement. "The Nevada delegation has a tradition of working together to build consensus on lands bills important to our state. ... Yet the President, with the stroke of a pen, has bypassed Congress yet again and ignored any input from Nevadans on this designation. If we are stronger when we work together, then let's actually work together."
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., struck a similar tone, criticizing Obama for thwarting the legislative process on the lands issue.
"I have always been forthright with my position that any federal action to change access on our public lands should be discussed in an open and transparent process incorporating the input and support from local communities," Heller said.
The view from from Nevada's 4th District race were the most pronounced. State Sen. Ruben Kihuen charged incumbent Republican Cresent Hardy of taking his cues from Cliven Bundy, the rancher who engaged in an armed standoff with federal agents.
"With this designation, the Basin's bighorn sheep, sage-grouse and petroglyphs will be preserved for generations to come. I am deeply disappointed by my opponent Cresent Hardy's misguided attempts to stop and defund the designation. He clearly takes his cues on how to manage our land from his good friend Cliven Bundy," said Kihuen. "We deserve leadership in Congress who will fight to protect our natural resources and increase tourism revenue."
Hardy had offered an amendment to the Interior-Environment spending bill that was pulled off the House floor in a debate over displays of the Confederate flag that would require local input in making national monument designations.
"This is about empowering local communities and local stakeholders most affected by monument designations, and will increase transparency, allow for local input, and provide for improved management of our public lands. It will also fulfill our responsibility to ensure that these communities have a legitimate voice in the process," Hardy said when the House backed his amendment.
The partisan divide couldn't be more clear, with Catherine Cortez Masto, the former state attorney general backed by Reid in the Senate race also siding with the Democrats.
"The Basin and Range National Monument will help protect the wildlife, fauna, and cultural resources unique to our desert so Nevada’s children and grandchildren can enjoy this beautiful landscape," she said.
Even more than for Obama, the Basin and Range designation will be a legacy matter for Reid as he approaches his final year of service in the Senate. On Friday, he offered an example of what first got him interested in preserving Nevada's lands.
"As a little boy growing up in Searchlight, my family didn’t travel or go on vacations. But we were able to visit Fort Piute Springs, about fifteen miles away from my home. To me it was a supernatural place, it was my Disneyland. It had a Calvary fort, it had gushing ponds of water, it had lily pads and cattails — it was magic," Reid explained. "Decades later I went back to visit only to find it in ruins. I thought it was profoundly unfair that little boys and girls wouldn't be able to experience the thrill of Piute Springs like I had. I became determined that someday I would preserve Piute Springs and places like it. I have worked hard to do that."