A 17-member board, established by the state legislature in 2013, on which Commissioner Kevin Phillips represents Lincoln County, has been working for several months to analyze the implications of a transfer of the title of the federal unappropriated lands in Nevada to the state of Nevada.
Phillips gave a briefing at the County Commission meeting May 4, and said the committee has finished its preliminary findings. The report is being reviewed by each of the County Commission boards around the state this month. Committee members will meet again in June or July to finalize the report to be given to the Legislative Public Lands Subcommittee late this summer.
Some of the recommendations contained in the report at present, he said, do not include lands currently congressionally designated as wilderness areas, national conservation areas, lands currently administered by the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Department of the Interior, Department of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and wildlife Service, or the National Park Service.
After a series of meetings, Phillips said the lands committee decision on a two-phase system for the transfer of lands.
Even though he personally objected to the two-phase system, Phillips said he feels states can manage lands now controlled by the federal government just as well, if not better, than the government. And he said recent studies and fiscal analysis back up that claim.
He explained why he was not in favor of the two-phase method, ”because Lincoln County does not benefit directly from that method. It is because of the nature of the lands that are in Phase I. Most to benefit from this are the more urban counties, Washoe and Clark,” he said.
In Phase I, recommendations include lands within the original 1869 railroad corridor, (where the Humboldt River crosses Nevada, through Elko, Carlin, Battle Mountain, to Lovelock), lands that meet the criteria for disposal and those previously identified for disposal. Phillips said 90,000 acres are already listed for disposal in Lincoln County. Other lands in Phase I were noted as being lands that are listed under existing recreational public purposes, i.e. leases.
He explained towns and cities in many cases, which have new multi-million dollar public service facilities (schools, law enforcement, fire stations, etc.), “are on ground they don’t have title to.”
Lands identified in non-linear rights-of-way are also to be included in Phase I along with federal lands on which private mineral rights are held, plus solar energy zones, lands suitable for geothermal leases but not yet leased, and lands authorized for disposal within an active introduced federal legislation.
In Phase II and subsequent phases, Phillips said the 17-member committee is recommending inclusion of other BLM administered lands, Forest Service land, Bureau of Reclamation lands, and other federally managed and administered lands.
Another section of the report lists lands that are requested to be transferred to the state of Nevada: the surface estate, subsurface estate, and federally held water rights that are pertinent to transferred lands.
Phillips said if the federal government retains title to wilderness areas, like those in Lincoln County, the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program will be continued. “But, that is providing PILT is fully funded, which is not right now,” he said.
In his opinion, Phillips thinks the state of Nevada, “would be a lot better off managing the turf within the borders of the state ourselves.”
A question was asked of what is to happen to federally protected species if the state takes over management of the land? Phillips said it was a question the committee members have discussed but not come to a conclusion.
A final point Phillips made, noted the following principals will guide state management or transfer lands. All transferred lands would be applicable to all state and local statutes, regulations, ordinances and codes. All lands would also remain subject to all valid existing federal, state and local permits, land use authorizations, and rights of access, with no change for any currently existing grazing permits or water rights.
The committee’s report also includes a provision that if, in the future, the state of Nevada wanted to sell some of the land, they must involve in the discussions, the local County Commission in which the land it located.
Phillips summarized the said the additional fiscal report which the committee has put together as showing, “in a nutshell, that if the state of Nevada were to receive title to the unappropriated public lands it would almost undoubtedly become a positive cash flow to the state.”
After the final report is given to the state legislature this summer, the 17-member committee is in hopes it will find its way into a bill to be introduced during the 78th session of the Nevada State Legislature which begins Feb. 2, 2015.
Phillips said Utah has already made demands that unappropriated public lands be transferred to state management by Dec. 31, 2014, and he said most of the 11 western states are also working on much the same thing.