On June 4, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law AB227—“Nevada Land Management Implementation Committee”—making Nevada the fifth western state to actively explore the transfer of public lands to western states. AB227 creates the Nevada Land Management Task Force, which will conduct a study addressing the transfer of public lands in the state.

During the Lincoln County Commissioners regular meeting June 17, Commissioner Kevin Phillips was appointed to be the representative from Lincoln County on the task force. Phillips said there are to be 17 members on the task force, one from each county.

“This is a huge step forward for Nevada,” said bill sponsor Assemblyman John Ellison. “For 150 years, Nevadans have been encumbered by federal land dominion more than residents of any other state. It makes no sense for any government to keep dominion over 80-plus percent of the land and leave less than 20 percent to its people. That’s feudalism.”

Assemblyman James Oscarson said this issue affects all the Western states, but Nevada is acutely affected. “It’s with good reason that the Sagebrush Rebellion began in Nevada,” he said, “and it’s important that Nevada continue to lead in the effort to return federal lands to the states.”

State Senator Pete Goicoechea, among the bill’s sponsors, said AB 227 mirrors similar legislation that was passed in Utah last year. “In the past few years, Utah’s lawmakers have been particularly boisterous in demanding transfer of federal lands. This is an issue that first came to prominence in Nevada, though, and we felt it was time to reassert Nevada’s leadership on the issue. After closely examining all of Utah’s proposals, we felt the Task Force idea offered the most workable solution.”

The movement advocating for the transfer of western public lands began in Utah in 2012. Utah State Representative Ken Ivory introduced and Governor Gary Herbert signed into law HB148— “Transfer of Public Lands Act”—which has subsequently become the model policy for other state legislators to use as an example.

Since the movement began in Utah, legislation has been popping up across the country. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and South Carolina have all passed bills to acquire title to and control of public lands currently controlled by the federal government.

Uncle Sam still controls more than 50 percent of all lands in the West, including 84.5  percent in Nevada (59.3 million acres). At the same time, the federal government controls less than five percent of the lands in Hawaii and any of the states east of the Rocky Mountains.

In 2014, it’s expected more states will press this issue as state legislators are likely to continue to work together through the American Legislative Exchange Council and other organizations in order to gain back their land.

The Nevada Task Force is expecting to be able to deliver a report to the Legislative Commission by Sept. 1, with recommendations on how to best transfer control of public lands. In addition, the Task Force will prepare an economic and fiscal analysis detailing how Nevada would benefit from sales or lease proceeds and how the state will finance public land management.