By Mark Waite
County commissioners Tuesday voted to spend $5,000 to join the American Lands Council, after hearing Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl speak about the organization’s attempt to get lands wrestled from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Nye County was also asked to have a board member as a contact, Commissioner Dan Schinhofen made the motion to appoint Commissioner Lorinda Wichman, who gladly accepted.
The American Lands Council is following after the passage of House Bill 148 by the state of Utah, which asks the federal government to transfer BLM land to the state, with the exception of monuments, wilderness areas and parks, by Dec. 31, 2014. Dahl hopes to get as many western states to participate as possible in similar requests.
In talking points called “We Can’t Wait,” the American Lands Council states the federal government promised it would extinguish title for all the states. It followed up on its promise for states east of Colorado, where the federal government now controls only 4 percent of the land, but not west of there, where 64 percent of the land is under federal control. In 1828, a handful of states that were then considered far afield — Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida — complained to the federal government the federal control of 90 percent of their land kept them unable to perform functions of statehood.
The mission of the American Lands Council is to advance prosperity and self-reliance, improve the health of public lands, and provide increased funding for public education by securing and defending local control of land access, land use and land ownership of public and private lands.
Dahl said the council took shape in Elko County after the U.S. Forest Service in January 2009 announced it was preparing a travel management plan and falsely claimed they wouldn’t close any roads, but even though Elko County was a cooperating agency, the forest service didn’t budge on its positions.
Dahl said Wichman spoke to U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev. about the problem; Dahl testified before the Natural Resource and Public Lands subcommittee in Washington, D.C. as well. It resulted in a subcommittee hearing in Elko.
“At the end of that, the forest service went ahead and pretty much thumbed their nose at us and the subcommittee and did what they planned on doing from the beginning,” Dahl said.
State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Nev. and Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Nev., have sponsored a bill for the upcoming session of the Nevada Legislature that would set up a committee, the Nevada Land Management Implementation Committee, comprised of a member from each county, to investigate how such a land transfer would be handled, with the aim of revisiting a bill similar to the Utah law in the 2015 session.
“I followed it when Utah did this. I’m very happy someone at our state level is doing this. I hope that we can get the feds to agree to follow the law, so many times they’re not following the law,” Schinhofen said.
Commissioner Donna Cox added, “I’m very glad to see this happen. I think this is one of the things citizens have been working for.”
“It’s about time we do something,” Commissioner Butch Borasky said.
Dahl said he expects such a bill would allow multiple uses that currently exist on public land to remain, like grazing permits, mining claims and hunting.
“A lot of concerns people have with sales and worries about how much will be sold,” Dahl said. “It is anticipated there will not be very much land sold. The process for sales will be transparent. One of the ideas is that any land that is sold in a county would have to be approved by the county commission in that county.”
The New Mexico Legislature began debating a similar bill to Utah’s bill this month, Dahl said. Montana and Idaho are introducing bills and Wyoming is working on one. A similar bill passed the Arizona Legislature last year, but the governor vetoed it because it didn’t have the protections the Utah bill did, he said.
“With the exception of the original Sagebrush Rebellion in the 70s, and I was on that original bill, with the exception of that, this is the first offensive move that the states have taken and this is so much more sophisticated than what we did then. What we did in the original Sagebrush Rebellion, we were a bunch of mad cowboys who got tough and thought we were going to throw the fence out,” Dahl said.
The Sagebrush Rebellion, a demand for the turnover of federal lands, arose after the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. But it was somewhat tempered after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the appointment of James Watt as interior secretary who instituted a “good neighbor policy.”
Dahl said Ken Ivory, the main organizer of the American Lands Council, has been to Washington, D.C. four times since August working on the land transfers and needs money to continue.