Nye County officials Monday talked about having to go to court with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to resolve differences over the proposed revisions to the BLM master plan for Southern Nevada.
However, many in the crowd talked of civil disobedience, believing it wouldn’t do any good to negotiate with the federal agency they claim wasn’t listening to local concerns.
“I do believe we will wind up in court on this,” Commissioner Butch Borasky said. “I believe it’s the only way we will get anywhere.”
Monday’s special hearing was attended by many local and regional land use advocates concerned about potential plans by the federal government to restrict public land use.
Cliven Bundy, who gained national attention for a standoff with the BLM on his ranch near Mesquite, said he used to attend meetings with the BLM over 20 years ago but gave up.
“One day I figured they weren’t trying to manage this land for the use of we the people, they weren’t interested in us producing a commodity,” Bundy told the commissioners. “They weren’t interested in giving us access or recreation.”
The BLM did not attend Monday’s meeting.
Nye County Natural Resource Manager Levi Kryder said the BLM management approach is moving away from multiple use to one that promotes preservation, conservation and recreation. He said much of the proposed mitigation, land use designations and permits will likely adversely affect Nye County.
The county submitted seven general and 189 specific comments on the revised plan to the BLM, but Kryder said they were bound by confidentiality under an agreement signed with the BLM in March 2011 that allowed the county to participate as a cooperating agency.
Kryder said the county concerns involved renewable energy development; public land requested for disposal for things like flood control, solid waste and wastewater improvements or a public shooting range; transportation issues like a park and ride on the county line, the proposed Pahrump beltway and a Pahrump airport and economic opportunities for commercial and industrial development.
In April 2012, Kryder said the BLM introduced preliminary alternatives on the plan to cooperating agencies but excluded Nye County.
After a January meeting where county officials expressed discontent with the plan, a field trip was proposed to areas the BLM recommended be set aside for Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, but no BLM managers participated, he said.
“They have totally ignored the maps we have presented them,” Nye County Planning Director Darrell Lacy said.
Pahrump Public Lands Advisory Board chairman Bob Adams said the BLM jumped to the extreme end and are trying to keep people out of public lands. He pushed to extend the comment period another 90 days until a new Congress takes office.
Lacy suggested residents show a strength in numbers in submitting comments en masse to the BLM. He also suggested the State of Nevada provide supporting comments.
Lacy said the BLM could still rearrange things in the four alternatives ranging from alternative II, the most restrictive, to alternative IV, the most pro-development. BLM staff prefers a mix, alternative III.
County Commissioner Donna Cox helped fuel the audience’s anger at federal agencies which boiled over at the meeting. Cox asked for a restraining order to prevent the BLM from moving forward with the plan revisions until they sit down with local residents. But Lacy thought it would be a waste of time to go to federal court now.
“This is our land not their land,” Cox said. “They only manage this land. They don’t own this land and they’re under the impression they can just walk all over the American people and someone needs to stand up and put a stop to it. The process is obviously not working. Nye County does not need or should have BLM in here dictating to us. Maybe it’s time we start our own land management program right here.
“This is a game and do we want to play or do we not? Do we want to be in control of our own destiny or do we not?” she asked.
“The BLM needs to be run out of this county and this county needs to get together with other counties and run them out of the state,” the commissioner’s husband Don Cox said under public comment. “Meet them at the county line. We all pack (firearms), we all carry, we got a big force and we need to use it. They need to go.”
County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman, speaking by video conference from Tonopah, said a new state Legislature convening in February 2015 will be more receptive to a task force recommending the transfer of much of the federal land in Nevada to the state.
She wanted residents to turn in thousands of comments to BLM Pahrump Field Office Manager Tim Smith. Wichman said there isn’t any reason to do acts of civil disobedience yet.
But Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen hinted at it when he said, “then we stand at the county line and say you can’t come in here.”
Jeff Wiest criticized the County Commission for signing the non-disclosure agreement.
“In eight years if this ever goes to court we don’t stand a chance of doing anything,” Wiest said. “I think the only thing we can do with these guys is civil disobedience.”
Michael Von Quilich, the chief executive officer of RVparks24/7.com, said Pahrump is just now getting on the map as a destination for off-road driving.
Ryan Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, urged the county to never sign a memorandum of understanding with the BLM.
“Any time you sign a memorandum of understanding with the Bureau of Land Management that is evidence that they have authority and you do not,” Ryan Bundy said. “You have the constitutional right to control this land.”
“Not one person should turn in a comment. The county should not turn in a comment. It is a waste of time,” he said. “We’re still wanting to beg to them. Let’s put in our comments, let’s see if we can go through their process. You can’t do that. They don’t have the authority and jurisdiction, we have never given it to them. So stand on your own two feet.”
Nye County Republican Party Central Committee chairman Bill Carns said the Bundy ranch standoff almost turned into a big shooting range, something he warned could happen in Nye County if the BLM pushes people into a corner.
“Any time you speak with the BLM as Ryan Bundy has said, you’re getting further and further in bed with the devil,” Cliven Bundy’s personal bodyguard Buda Cavalier said. “If you don’t protect the land that belongs to you and your citizens then you will have another Bundy ranch.”
Annette Fuentes, who is fighting a battle with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after the the agency cut off a channel feeding the Patch of Heaven church camp she and her husband Victor own on a patch of private land in Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, said, “this is a big smoke screen BLM is putting up. I’ve been through this with fish and wildlife. They all have the same protocol.”
“They already know what they’re going to do because they did it to us,” she said. “They’re going to take everything, you will be in court. They’re going to try to close everything off, take away our rights.”