Nevada lies mostly within the Great Basin, the largest desert in north America. Historian James Hulse has written that the term “basin” can be deceptive, that it is more like a bowl of mashed potatoes, with the potatoes in the center rising higher than the outer ridges of the bowl. There are more than 130 million acres in the basin, and one of the things some federal officials have never understood is that it contains a fragile ecology. When they wanted to do things like install the MX missile system, it not only offended local sensibilities but threatened the health of the basin. That is not the only threat, either.
In 2007, Bureau of Land Management official Mike Pellant, who heads BLM Great Basin restoration efforts, told a congressional committee:
“Today, population growth, wildfires, and invasive species are reducing the quality of native rangelands at an accelerating rate. Based on recent studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and others, climate change could well be expected to accelerate these changes and associated impacts. … The impact of climate change on Great Basin ecosystems may be magnified compared to other ecosystems due to the aridity and lower resiliency of these lands. Rangelands in the Great Basin always are ‘on the edge’ given the uncertain timing and quantity of precipitation, invasive species, altered fire regimes and increasing human population pressures.”
Those who love the basin fear the impact of climate change and the candidate who thinks it doesn’t exist. Donald Trump believes that his checking the weather report or what he sees out his window constitutes evidence that contradicts all the science: “Snowing in Texas and Louisiana, record-setting freezing temperatures throughout the country and beyond. Global warming is an expensive hoax!” he wrote in 2014. “Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee. I’m in Los Angeles and it’s freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!” he wrote in 2013. He wasn’t running for president then, so the likelihood is that, unlike Republican presidential candidates who have to pretend to be crazy to win the nomination, he really believes this, though he is beginning to grudgingly edge toward reality not in his own voice but through a spokeswoman.
As a consequence, the scientific studies that are badly needed in the Great Basin, to say nothing of actual action to protect it, will likely face rough going if Trump becomes president.
That isn’t the only thing, of course. Efforts now underway by the Department of Defense to protect coastal defenses from the effect of climate change could come to an end, undercutting national security.
Trump’s denial of reality is so ingrained that though he owns hotels in south Florida and Miami Chamber of Commerce official Mark Rosenberg told the Los Angeles Times, “At five feet over current levels, much of suburban Miami, including Miami Beach, is completely submerged,” Trump still denies anything is happening.
He said he would renegotiate the Paris climate agreement, then upped the ante by saying he would “cancel” U.S. participation in the agreement: “We’re going to do all this while taking proper regard for rational environmental concerns.” It is difficult in the circumstances to know what he considers rational environmental concerns.
But in the Great Basin, the concerns are more local and ranchers are facing reduced fertility of grazing acreage, with grazing allotments being cut because of growing dryness.
Some scientists say they are uncertain what the impact of climate change on the basin will be. It is a different terrain and geography than other parts of the west. One scientist even told me it may be cooler in the basin. But while they may disagree on impacts, no one disagrees that climate change is happening.
“Somewhere through the middle of Nevada is a line, and we don’t know where it is,” University of Nevada, Reno rangeland scientist Sherman Swanson said in 2013. “South of that line, it’ll be drier. North of that line, it’ll be wetter.”
More study is very much needed, and if Trump is president, the money for that kind of study will be a lot harder to come by.
Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He hasalso served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.