TONOPAH — Steven Williams, district ranger for the Austin and Tonopah districts of the U. S. Forest Service’s Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest was in the unenviable position of being the only major federal official speaking at the quarterly meeting of the Legislative Committee on Public Lands meeting here last week.
Williams talked about rangeland management planning, vegetation and fuels management (including specifics on last fall’s major wildland fire near Gabbs), minerals exploration programs, wild horse and burro management and the “Secure Rural Schools Act.”
The continuing drought is of major concern in central Nevada, Williams said the ranger noting moisture from the snowpack had been running upwards of 70 percent of normal this winter but snowfall totals fell from about 80 percent of normal to 60 percent recently with winter-end totals due.
State Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) represents virtually all of rural eastern Nevada. He asked Williams about the history of wild horse and burro management. Williams noted that there presently are 32 active grazing allotments on the forest and 17 which are vacant.
Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, who also represents northwest Nye County, wondered why more had not been done in the past to meet the requirements of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act.
Williams said he had been asked the same question by former State Sen. Dean Rhodes in the 1980s and that efforts had been made and continue to set “appropriate management levels.” He said every time an impact statement is issued or levels are discussed, his office typically may receive 10,000 comments — most form letters from out of state groups — which have to be addressed.
Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins brought up an alternative to capturing and holding horses for adoption. “Is ‘processing’ in your vocabulary?”
“It is not,” Williams replied.
Ford questioned Nancy Boland vigorously if there has been “public discussion” of the possibility of “horse sanctuaries” in Esmeralda County. Boland said there have been no formal discussions.
Ford asked Williams, “Has USFS considered sanctuaries?”
Williams said they had not been considered.
But Hansen added, “Esmeralda County is virtually a total horse sanctuary. You can see them wherever you go.
“You already have a sanctuary. It is called Esmeralda County.”
Collins drew laughter when he remarked California people don’t know which end the hay comes out.
Nevada Assemblyman John Ellison (R-Elko) asked about local forest losses such as have occurred elsewhere through problems like “beetle infestation.” Williams said it has not been “too bad” locally but drought conditions could make matters worse.
Esmeralda County Commission Chair Nancy Boland spoke about problems local governments have in dealing with federal agencies. She said U.S. Bureau of Land Management representatives do not “communicate on smaller issues and outlined problems in dealing with the USFS on road closures and travel management plans.
Boland also spoke for Gold Point residents who remain in flux regarding their property rights. Several options have been proposed but none have solved the residents’ problems. “There is a whole lot of inconsistency,” she said.
In the aftermath of rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff federal authorities, Boland said, “We had problems” with law enforcement issues but things have not gotten out of hand “like in Clark County.”
Hansen asked about the closure of Chiatovich Creek in Esmeralda County’s Fish Lake Valley. He said, “A tiny little county is up against the USFS.”
Boland said the creek is still not open. Hansen responded, “These are the kind of things they face.”
Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl respresented the Central Nevada Regional Water Authority and Executive Director Steve Bradhurst. Wade Poulsen, general manager of the Lincoln County Water District and Darrell Lacy, general manager of the Nye County Water District also gave testimony. They all discussed various efforts by their districts to manage and protect water rights meetings with other water officials from surrounding states were emphasized.
A comment about the change in climate which is putting more rain in the northwest and less snow in the Sierras brought a query from Hansen. He wanted to know if more rain was not better for places like Walker Lake as opposed to snow in the mountains. Bradhurst responded that rain was not good for reservoir replenishment in areas like Washoe County where snowpack is needed to last throughout spring.
Speaking of water and land rights, Bradhurst said, “We need a partnership. We need a leader. Unless we find one it is too late.” He suggested a forum among water authorities and the state engineer on water issues.
Aizley said, “This is not just a Nevada problem, it is a problem for the west, a global problem.”
When the chairman said that conservation is needed as “nothing else is producing water,” Dahl broached the idea of desalinization which “opens up new water.”
Additional presentations which echoed previous discussions were made by Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties. Dahl as the group’s chairman, Clay McCauley, executive vice president and Hank Combs, president of the Nevada Farm Bureau. They talked about the need for transfer of federal land to state control and warnings about the designation of endangered species, especially sage grouse.