The preliminary draft report from the Nevada Public Land Management Task Force goes quickly to the bottom line: It costs the federal government to manage public lands, while states earn a profit when they take over the land.
The Bureau of Land Management loses 91 cents an acre on land it controls in Nevada or $31.1 million a year on average over the past five years, while the average net income for four states that have public trust land was $28.59 per acre, though the highest net revenue observed was $72.26 per acre and the lowest was $10.
The draft report said the state could net $114 million by taking over 4 million acres of BLM land. Taking over all 48 million acres could net the state more than $1.5 billion — about half the current annual general fund budget.
The Legislative Committee on Public Lands met a week ago in Tonopah to hear a presentation from the task force on the financial impact of taking control of some federal public land. Task force chairman and Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl presented the findings.
The 18-page analysis by Intertech Services Inc. looked at financial impact of state trust lands in four states — Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah — and found that net revenues per acre for each state ranged from a low of $16.60 in Idaho to a high of $33.43 in Utah. The lands also created between 70 and 262 jobs.
“The way those numbers turned out it looks like we can surely afford it,” Dahl was quoted as saying. “Not only afford it but the state could make a lot of revenue having the land and managing it ourselves.”
The draft did not suggest transferring to state control any congressionally designated wilderness areas, National Conservation Areas or lands under the jurisdiction of the Department of Energy, Defense, Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Park Service.
The draft said “transferred lands shall be managed for long-term health, function, productivity and sustainability with the exception of those lands identified as suitable for disposal.”
Lands kept under state trust could generate revenues from grazing fees, rights of way, sale of minerals, recreation fees and royalties from oil, gas and geothermal leases.
As it stands now, those revenues are sent to Washington. To make up to the states for their lost revenue from untaxed federal land within their borders our benefactors in Parliament on the Potomac send the counties Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) or about $400 million a year. But Nevada’s senior Sen. Harry Reid says the Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands. It appears the states are getting shortchanged, getting $1 for every $35 sent to the federal bureaucracy.
But the best thing for the economy of the state and welfare of its citizens would be to sell as much of the land as feasible to private citizens who could create wealth and jobs with entrepreneurship and innovation. Currently only 12 percent of Nevada’s land is in the hands of private citizens, less than 7 percent is controlled by the state and more than 81 percent controlled by the federal bureaucracy.
While the usual Democratic naysayers are casting a wet blanket over the whole study and its underlying concept of self-determination, Dahl was quoted as saying, “I think if we can get enough states to pass legislation saying we want our land, and we all go together to Congress, I think we can get it done.”
Does it need to be done? Just ask Nevada’s ranchers, miners and oil and gas explorers who have to deal with the uncaring federal bureaucracy. — TM