The Biden administration’s newest lands plan is bad news for Western states, and it will disproportionately hurt Nevada.
Nevada is one of the largest states in the country in terms of area. But it’s a much different story if you subtract land owned by the federal government. Washington controls more than 56 million of Nevada’s 70.3 million acres. That’s more than 80 percent of the state. All land data comes from a 2020 Congressional Research Service report.
That leaves Nevada with just more than 14 million acres available for private ownership and state and local governments. To visualize, that’s about 10 percent smaller than West Virginia, and the federal government owns less than 8 percent of that state. If you excluded land owned by the federal government, Nevada would fall from the seventh-largest state to the 10th smallest.
Nevadans for decades have lived with this vast federal presence. Most residents understand the importance of the Nevada Test and Training Range. Millions enjoy the beauty of places such as Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Great Basin National Park. But millions of other acres are also under the domain of the Bureau of Land Management, the dominant landlord. It oversees two-thirds of Nevada’s real estate. It’s why the Las Vegas Valley is surrounded by desert and is running out of developable land.
Nevada has it the worst, but it’s not the only state under the federal government’s thumb. The feds own around 46 percent of all land in Western states. In all the remaining states, the average is around 4 percent. There’s a disparity worth remedying.
Instead, BLM wants to lock away more land. It’s proposed a new rule that would allow groups to rent land for “conservation.” Never mind that BLM ownership already means land use is severely restricted. While the rule would honor existing leases for things such as timber harvesting or oil drilling, it would prohibit other uses on land marked for “conservation.” It’s easy to imagine the Biden administration renting millions of acres to prevent uses environmentalists oppose. That could even include solar plants.
“The proposed rule could push BLM lands into a protection-oriented management regime more akin to the National Park Service than an agency statutorily obligated to promote multiple use and sustained yield,” Gov. Joe Lombardo and five other governors wrote in a letter addressing the issue.
This a land grab, pure and simple. It would empower federal bureaucrats at the expense of Nevada residents and governments. The goal should be to transfer nonenvironmentally sensitive lands — particularly in the state’s urban areas — into private hands. The Biden administration’s proposed rule would make that more difficult. It’s a bad idea.
This commentary was originally published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.