The Nevada Land Management Task Force was established under Assembly Bill 227 during the last session of the state legislature with the ambitious goal of recommending how federal land, which comprises 84 percent of the state, would be transferred to the state.
But despite that heady goal, the dream of many in the public lands movement, a couple of Nye County commissioners Tuesday were pessimistic that any federal land would ever actually be transferred.
“It kind of scared me to think oh my God you’re going to give all 97 percent of Nye County to the state? I don’t think so. We have the Department of Interior, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense involved, that’s not going to go anywhere, that’s going to stay with those folks. I don’t want it. I wouldn’t want the liability personally, I would not take on that liability. Leave it with the federal government,” County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman said.
“To be very candid, I don’t know how far this effort is going to go. Speaking as the State of Nevada I don’t know if we will ever see all of the public lands turned over to the state. But what it might do is drive enough publicity and enough concern up the food chain so that those areas around communities we’ve been trying to get turned loose and get disposed of by the BLM, maybe our efforts will be recognized and it won’t take 10 years to get a permit for a mine and maybe it won’t be such a battle to get 10 square feet to finish a road,”she said.
Each county contributes one member to the task force. The group meets quarterly. They will make recommendations to the 2015 session of the Nevada Legislature. The bill mirrors a similar effort in Utah.
An update provided to county commissioners from a Nov. 1 meeting stated the general sentiment of the task force was that any sale of transferred lands wouldn’t be prudent. Chairman Demar Dahl, an Elko County commissioner, said the task force concluded wilderness areas, national monuments, national parks, Native American land and Department of Defense land should be eliminated from the transfer; Wichman said she agrees with that suggestion. Multiple uses currently allowed on federal land should be transferred.
Wichman said a recent article published by a Las Vegas newspaper gave the misconception the board wants to acquire federal land to sell it to private owners.
“That is not the intent. It is to take it from federal management to state management,” she said. “Let’s go back to the analogy of a mining permit taking 10 years to go through a federal process. It may still take 10 years to go through the state process. But the point is, you can make the trip up to Carson (City) a lot easier than you can make the trip up to Washington, D.C.”
The land transfer has drawn the opposition of groups like the Sierra Club, the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife and the Nevada Conservation League. But a survey by the Nevada Farm Bureau showed a strong majority of its members supported it.
The commissioner who handles all of Nye County outside of Pahrump, Wichman previously advocated introducing a Nye County public lands bill in Congress — it could include a variety of requests from transferring shooting ranges to settling trespass issues in historic towns — then withdrew that proposal amid fears environmentalists and others in Washington, D.C. would demand more wilderness areas.
County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen, the county’s liaison on nuclear waste, said areas the federal government is using, like Area 5 at the Nevada National Security Site, which is used for disposing low-level nuclear waste, the state shouldn’t ask back. But for other areas around Pahrump, the county should have a say.
“The Bureau of Mismanagement is very hard at work with as far as getting any easements,” Schinhofen said. “If this does move forward, it doesn’t do anything other than shake them up, if that’s all that gets done, then that’s all that gets done. I think we have to look at, if the lands are turned over, how we’re going to manage them.”
A study is ongoing to calculate how much the U.S. Bureau of Land Management collects for the administration of federal land, including grazing allotment fees, Wichman said. The Nevada Division of Public Lands doesn’t have a lot of employees, but would have to increase staff to handle state management of those increased lands, she said.
The task force is asking the Nevada Association of Counties board to enter into a contract with Intertech Services Corporation to consolidate information needed to meet the requirements of the assembly bill for a final report to be delivered to the state legislative public lands committee in June. The next meeting of the task force is scheduled Jan. 10 in Fallon. During future meetings the task force will discuss historical, legal and contractual reasons why the public lands belong to the state, a historical perspective on how the state manages public lands, and a list of pros and cons to the transfer.
Wichman said she was disappointed only one Nye County resident, Dona Goldstein, submitted a comment for the task force, after issuing a public plea on what the public would like to see in a lands transfer.
County Commission Chairman Butch Borasky said he hasn’t submitted comments because Wichman is doing such an outstanding job on public lands matters.
Wichman’s e-mail address for comments is firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Donna Cox referred to a petition circulated by the Concerned Citizens for a Safe Community in 2012 challenging the authority of the BLM to to round up wild horses and burros, which collected 1,681 signatures in a short period of time. She agreed the state doesn’t have to manage a lot of the 97 percent of federal land in Nye County.
“I hope they don’t talk this to death. I’m anxious for them to get this taken care of,” Cox said.
But Wichman said it will probably be a lengthy process.
In another matter, Borasky suggested offering the Marilyn Gallivan complex, at 250 N. Highway 160, which is being vacated by county planning and the Pahrump Building and Safety Department, to the BLM to use for their Pahrump field office. The BLM established a Pahrump Field Office but it is actually stationed at BLM offices in Las Vegas.
“I think that would be a good move to get them back into Pahrump where they belong. Hopefully they’ll all move out here and boost our economy a little bit,” Borasky said.
The BLM didn’t provide comment on Borasky’s proposal by press time.