Preserved by Prostitution: 400 Acres in Nevada

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Photo by the_toe_stubber via Flickr.

Conservation efforts sometimes create unlikely bedfellows. By keeping tracts of land off-limits, high-security prisons, closed borders, and wars and other conflicts can inadvertently protect natural landscapes from degradation. Now, it seems, we can add brothel owners to the list of accidental "environmentalists."The tax woes of the Mustang Ranch, the first licensed brothel in the United States, may prove a boon to the Nature Conservancy's efforts to restore the Truckee River in Nevada, the New York Times reported this week, saying that "like many acts of salvation, this one has its roots deep in sin."

Army Corps Straightened, Widened Truckee River
The brothel's original high-desert location, a 420-acre site eight miles east of Reno and 300 yards from the riverbank, was confiscated by the Internal Revenue Service a few years ago. While the working women continue to ply their trade a few miles downriver, the old property is being restored to floodplain. The river had been straightened and widened by the Army Corps of Engineers half a century ago to reduce flood risks to Reno's growing population.

"For most of its recorded history, the Truckee meandered lazily 110 miles from mountainous Lake Tahoe through Reno, once a floodplain, to the great basin in Nevada. Dense forests grew at its banks, and 20-pound cutthroat trout swam its length," Times reporter Leslie Kaufman wrote.

The federal engineers' work, however, caused the lower Truckee to lose "a majority of its native plants as well as dependent birds and wildlife. Only ancient cottonwoods with deep roots survived. Invasive weeds took over, and the river became an eyesore."

Restoring the River to its Old Beds
The Nature Conservancy hatched a $20 million plan to restore an eight-and-a-half-mile stretch of the river to its old beds while removing invasive species and replanting native ones. The old Mustang Ranch is "the final piece" in that effort, and, the Times reported, a "particularly promising" one for restoration.

"We joke that in Nevada that we only work on properties near brothels," the paper quoted Nature Conservancy project manager Mickey Hazelwood as saying. "They like their privacy -- they stay concentrated instead of developing out so they can keep an eye on things. It works for us." Via: "Onetime Nevada Brothel Could Become Conservationists' Oasis," New York Times
More about vice and the environment:
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Legalizing Marijuana in California Could Be Good for the Environment
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