Published reports in the Las Vegas Review-Journal say, ?Backers of a plan to force the federal government to turn over control of millions of acres of land to Nevada are gearing up for new efforts in Congress and hoped-for-support from President-elect Donald Trump.?
Those who support the plan say state control of nearly 7.3 million acres under the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, some of which is in Lincoln County, ?would not disrupt hunting, wildlife and off-highway riding ? or stick taxpayers with big bills for fighting wildfires.?
However, Senator Pete Goicoechia, who supports the bill, says if it were put on the ballot today, it would fail.
U.S. Representative Mark Amodei, R-NV., has sponsored a bill in Congress called the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864, but it was not acted upon before Congress ended the last session.
Amodei?s plan, which would hopefully reduce the percentage of land in Nevada owned by the federal government from 87 percent to 75 percent, would cover nearly 7.3 million acres from Sparks to Wendover as well as transfer millions more acres currently managed by the BLM, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation, ?upon request by the state or local governments.?
Lincoln County Commissioner Varlin Higbee when asked how all of this might affect the county said, ?It would do wonderful things for rural Nevada in whatever county. It would relinquish the natural resources back to the state and the counties. By doing so it would increase our tax base, making it possible to maybe reopen some mines and allow mining companies to come in, or to help develop our grazing and develop our land for beneficial use. I think it would open the door for a lot of things.?
Dr. Mike Baughman, executive director of the Lincoln County Regional Development Authority, in 2014 submitted a plan detailing how a takeover of public lands could work. He reported wholesale land purchases could generate between $56 million to $206 million annually for Nevada, money that could also be used for education and other uses.
Higbee said, ?The federal government has really given some of the land away, all the state has to do is take it.? He cited a 1905 federal law actually gave away the surface rights, at least in Nevada. ?All the state has to do is claim it.? He explained
The 1905 law severed off the surface rights, giving the federal government the right to claim the minerals, gas and oil underground. ?If they owned the surface rights also, there would have been no need to sever those rights. Constitutionally, the only way the federal government can own land within a state is if they purchase it which has to be approved by the state legislature.? Higbee said Nevada has never approved such purchases. He said there is a whole list of federal laws, dating back to the 1860s that granted the surface rights to private entities, public entities, and many different land acts and land grants that relinquished the surface rights to the land. The only thing that gives the federal government the right to hold the land within a state at all, is by what is called the Northwest Ordinance which gave the federal government the right to control the land for disposal only, until the territory became populated enough to be granted statehood.? He said the Northwest Ordinance does not say anything about management,?
Asked why the state of Nevada or other western states has not claiming the land which it has legal right to do, Higbee said it is mostly due to a lack of education. ?I think the legislatures within our state, most of whom come from Clark County don?t have a clue or simply don?t care, let alone take the time to educated themselves about the issue and to our need.?
Others who are are opposed to the proposal have voiced concern since the federal government up to now has borne the majority of the costs for fighting wildfires on public lands, and question where the money would come from.
Goicoechia is noted as saying he believes the state could do a better job managing wildfires.