Federal control of Nevada lands hot topic at summit

STATELINE — Representatives of Nevada’s diverse collection of cities and counties don’t always find common ground, but the federal government’s control of so much of the state’s public lands struck a nerve at a summit here Friday.

Officials representing rural counties, small cities and the biggest jurisdictions took the opportunity to vent on the federal land control issue at the Local Government Summit sponsored by the Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada League of Cities and held at Lake Tahoe.

“Run the BLM out of Nevada?” asked Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross. “I’m in favor of that. Do I hear a second?”

He got more than a few nods and vocal signs of support from the approximately 100 attendees, a demonstration of just how unhappy many local officials are with the federal agency.

Ross later said his comments were made in jest, and were in response to the level of frustration he heard from local government officials in Northern and rural Nevada directed at the agency. Clark County has a good working relationship with the agency, Ross said.

Federal control of Nevada’s lands is an economic issue, he said. Small rural municipalities in particular need more land so they can grow, Ross said.

From the implications of a listing of the sage grouse as an endangered species to the difficulty in getting federal land transferred to cities and counties so they can grow, kind words for the agency were in short supply during the discussion.

It was just one part of a three-hour wide-ranging forum on federal and state issues affecting local governments, but it provoked some of the most spirited discussion.

About 48 million acres, or more than two-thirds of Nevada’s acreage, is under the control of the BLM.

Carlin Mayor Cliff Eklund offered a more modest view than Ross, arguing not for the removal of the BLM but for more state and local control over the lands. The BLM has a one-size-fits-all mentality across the country that does not consider geography or other factors, he said.

“I think if the states and counties had more input in how these lands are managed a lot of the problems we have between the local governments and the BLM would go away,” Eklund said.

BLM officials hold the illogical view that ranchers will overgraze the lands and put themselves out of business, he said.

“In a lot of cases, the ranchers have a better idea of how to manage the rangelands than some government official in Washingon, D.C.,” Eklund said.

Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl said the Nevada Legislature has initiated a review into whether the state should take over control of the public lands now managed by federal agencies, including the BLM.

Assembly Bill 227, which passed in the 2013 legislative session, has mandated that review, he said. A task force is now evaluating if the state wants to see a transfer of the lands, and if such a transfer can be accommodated, Dahl said. A report will be made to the Legislature in 2015.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank based in Las Vegas, has repeatedly called for the federal government to release the government’s public lands for economic development.

“Public auctioning of these lands could yield billions of dollars in immediate state revenues, while private-sector development of these lands would stimulate job growth and wealth creation,” said Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at NPRI, in a release last year.

Some land transfers do occur. The BLM has just announced a plan to sell 440 acres of property in Clark County.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801