Federal land better protected by local owners

The signs are everywhere across the West: Dry rangelands, fast-moving wildfires, endangered wildlife.

Evidence of climate change? Plenty of politicians and environmental activists would like to think so. Those individuals use the specter of man-caused global warming to argue for more federal control of open spaces, more spending on land oversight and species protection, and huge expansions of taxpayer-funded wildfire prevention efforts.

We see this region’s annual summer struggles against Mother Nature as proof of something else entirely:

Washington has far too much land to manage. Instead of giving the West’s largest land baron even more control of more property, taxpayers should be demanding the release of hundreds of thousands of acres to state or local control or, even better, private ownership.

Who has more incentive to preserve the deserts, rangelands, forests and mountains of the West, to keep them from burning, to ensure wildlife thrives? Those whose lives are tied to the land, or federal bureaucrats who answer to Washington and elected officials from the Midwest, Southeast and Northeast?

The federal government owns more than 80 percent of Nevada. In Utah and Arizona, just 30 percent of the land is privately owned. Washington controls more than half the West. But the federal government is neither attentive nor agile, and when it acts to correct its nonfeasance, it usually makes things worse.

Consider that today the Bureau of Land Management planned to relocate 50 Nevada wild horses from Lincoln and Nye counties, where they have little food and water, to off-range pastures and facilities. Yet at the same time, the BLM is putting together a public workshop to solicit ideas on how to protect wild horses from excessive heat at a Reno holding facility where some 1,800 of the animals live as a result of failed land management policies.

After decades of work by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at a cost of many millions of dollars, the Devil’s Hole pupfish is on the verge of extinction. The more money Washington spends, the more fish die off.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says he wants more funding for the U.S. Forest Service to clear the brush and fuel that feed wildfires such as the Carpenter 1 blaze the scorched Mount Charleston this month. We wish the senator would go a far cheaper route: Let someone else take care of the land. They couldn’t do any worse.

Nevadans voted in 1996 to amend the state constitution to remove a clause that gives Washington control of unappropriated land. And the 2013 Legislature passed Assembly Bill 227, which creates the Nevada Land Management Task Force, a panel that will make recommendations on the transfer of federal land to the state and push Congress to start handing over acreage by 2015.

This should be a priority for Nevada’s congressional delegation. It’s not just an environmental issue, it’s an economic one. Private ownership of federal land would create jobs and boost property tax collections.

To save our land, free it from federal control.