A Senate resolution that could have significant impact on Lincoln County continues to be an issue of polarizing debate in the Nevada State Assembly.
Senate Joint Resolution 1 would ask Congress to convey more than 7 million acres of federal land to state control. It passed the Senate on an 11-10 party-line vote in April and was heard by the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee.
An article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal stated, “The transfer of public lands proposed in the measure includes lands in the original railroad corridor across Northern Nevada, called checkerboard lands, and lands already identified for disposal by federal agencies, among other acreage that would total 7.3 million acres or about 10 percent of the public lands total in a first phase.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and other Nevada GOP political leaders favor the idea of the state assuming control over some federal lands.”
County Commission chair and Nevada Association of Counties board member Kevin Phillips, part of the group that sponsored the bill, said outdoor and conservation groups who oppose the idea are basing their thinking on figures provided by the federal government. “I worked on this bill for 14 months in committee, and we listened to all of those groups and we showed them it is not true the lands would be disposed by the state to private interests, and if retained by the state, the state could not afford to maintain them with costs from wildfires or other expenses. The state is not going to sell off all the land and turn it all private, with the exception of some areas around a metropolitan area, just like has happened around Las Vegas.”
Phillips said the sale of the land would generate plenty of resources. A study prepared by Intertech Services Corp, as reported in the RJ article, and paid for by NACO, found a transfer of 4 million acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land could bring in anywhere from $31 million to $114 million a year, based on a review of four Western states that have significant amounts of trust lands under their control.
The findings have been challenged by opponents, but Phillips says the claims of critics “are simply not accurate.”
Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties, said the proposal is reasonable and would still leave the vast majority of the state in the jurisdiction of the different federal agencies.
The Review-Journal article says critics point to Nevada’s history of managing lands received upon statehood. Nevada originally received 4 million acres in trust lands for the public schools. The state’s congressional delegation in 1880 persuaded Congress to let Nevada officials instead designate which lands they wanted in exchange for reducing the total acreage by half. Those trust lands were then sold off to private individuals as a way of trying to entice people to move into the state.
Nevada now has only 3,000 acres of such lands.
Phillips said the lands transfer of title to the state would come in phases. “Phase 1 is fairly soon, but I laugh when I say soon, because the BLM has been sitting on an order from the U.S. Congress for 10 years to dispose of 90,000 acres in Lincoln County in areas around the communities that have identified areas they would like for disposal, and have done very little, and we are being tremendously generous when we say very little. It’s all on the disposal list and they have done diddly.”
Phillips explained the first phase is to be the checkerboard lands along the Humboldt River in northern Nevada which follows much of the old railroad lands. “One section is private, the next is public, the next is private, and so on. It’s terrible. You can’t manage it, the feds can’t manage it, the private sector can’t either,” he said.
SJR1 also calls for the transfer of all remaining public lands no later than 10 years from now.
“This is a good business plan, for the state and Lincoln County. This is a doable thing,” Phillips said. “Nevada is going to come away a winner on this. And I take great exception to outdoor and conservation groups because their claims of criticism are not founded on logic, mathematics, reason, or empirical data. If the state held title to public lands, many of the currently closed roads and access to hunters and recreationalists could be opened or removed from the possible closure list. The state is not the ones who have provided the data to close places, it has come from the federal government.”