Church Camp Latest Battleground In Nevada Land Rights Dispute
Although Cliven Bundy became a household name in 2014 for a highly publicized armed standoff at his ranch in Bunkerville, it's not the only land battle happening in the state.
About 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas in the Amargosa Valley lies a remote, 40-acre parcel of land that houses a private church camp. The churches' pastor, Victor Fuentes, and his wife, Annette, bought the property in 2006, and aptly named the camp Patch of Heaven.
The property was surrounded by the Ash Meadow Wildlife Refuge. The whole area is feed by dozens of natural springs.
Patch of Heaven had a stream running through it that had been there for a least 100 years.
But in 2010, the Department of Fish and Wildlife diverted that stream in order to preserve several endangered fish species, particularly the tiny Ash Meadow dace,
"This stream was sort of the heart of the property," Las Vegas Sun reporter Conor Shine told KNPR's State of Nevada, "It was what gave it life. There was green grass, trees something you would totally not expect to see in the middle of the desert."
The stream was once where baptisms and other church activities were held, and the Fuentes' maintain that church attendance on the camp has plummeted, according to a Las Vegas Sun story.
While a much quieter battle than the one that erupted at the Bundy ranch, the litigation for the Fuentes' is ongoing, and will likely be drug out for years to come.
Shine said the Bundy case and the Fuentes case look similar because they're both about how public lands are managed; however, Fuentes has never been accused of not obeying the laws, unlike Bundy who has been ordered to pay grazing fees by a federal judge.
"These very well-meaning people now finding themselves caught in this much larger machine with the federal government and how they manage their public lands, and so, although they haven't done anything wrong, they're still being forced to fight basically,' Shine said.
There are actually two cases related to the stream being moved, one is about damage the Fuentes say was caused by floods that wouldn't have happened if the stream had been where it was originally. The other accuses the government of not following its own rules when it moved the stream.
The first case could go before the Supreme Court and the other is still making its way through the federal district court system.
Conor Shine, writer, Las Vegas Sun