- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2005

BOULDER CITY, Nev. — Both were born in the same state. Both have loyal constituencies and perks that come with their leadership positions.

But politics and economics have conspired to put Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and his neighbor, a desert bighorn sheep nicknamed Horndog, on a collision course.

The senator is pushing a $234 million Las Vegas-area project, the Hoover Dam Bypass, which includes a four-lane bridge and connector roads that will allow traffic to go around the dam.

When the project is completed in 2008, a costly bottleneck on a transportation corridor serving the North American Free Trade Agreement will be removed, economists say. And Mr. Reid has claimed a central role in pushing the project.

“Senator Reid himself included $45 million for the bridge in the highway bill,” said his spokeswoman, Tessa Hafen.

But that expansion threatens Horndog, the alpha ram of a herd of about 55 desert bighorn sheep in the Eldorado Mountains above Hoover Dam, who have to cross U.S. Highway 93 to get to a park they favor in Boulder City.

“They just charge across the highway, causing a lot of disruption and sometimes accidents,” says Christina Baley, an animal control officer with the Boulder City Police Department.

Sometimes the animals are hit; other times cars strike each other to avoid hitting the sheep. Sometimes the animals often huddle in the middle of the road, refusing to move and causing a traffic jam.

There’s little officials can do about it: Desert bighorn sheep are on the endangered species list — on top of being the Nevada state animal.

The one trick local officials have learned is to depend on Horndog, who got his nickname from local police officers, suddenly acquires almost senatorial stature, as authorities, guns firmly in their holsters, turn to him if not for advice, then at least for consent.

“We’ve noticed that if we can persuade Horndog to move, others will follow,” said Ms. Baley. “Otherwise, they will just stand there.”

The Highway 93 bypass could make matters worse by, among other things, cutting off the lambing area where ewes give birth each spring from the herd’s grazing grounds.

David Zanetell, the project manager, insists that the problem has been solved.

“With the new bypass, there will be crossings provided, and all of those will be fully controlled,” he says.

But environmental officials are not so sure the sheep will use them because they are programmed to avoid going under bridges or into tunnels.

Ross Haley, a spokesman for the National Park Service in Las Vegas, said organizations charged with environmental protection had hoped the bypass would go into a tunnel, not the other way around.

“We don’t feel we got a deal that makes us entirely satisfied,” he said.

Bill Vasconi, president of the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn, insists the “controlled” crossings mentioned by bypass officials are nothing more than intersections with stoplights and says the current plan lacks “foresight.”

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