Access to public lands one of many freedoms enjoyed in our country

By the time you read this, Independence Day 2012 and the associated celebrations of American freedom will be a thing of the past. But time still remains to express thanks to the Founding Fathers and all those who assisted in laying the foundation of the United States and made possible the freedoms we have enjoyed. Thanks also to those myriad individuals whose sacrifice across the past 236 years has insured those freedoms and continues to do so.

In addition to the basic freedoms we enjoy, one of the other great things about living in the United States is the access we have to millions of acres of public lands where we can enjoy the outdoor pursuits that add significantly to our quality of life. While most Americans have access to state parks and state forests, those resources are small when compared to that which is available through such federal agencies as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.

Among the recreational activities available on the lands managed by these agencies are hunting, fishing, camping, off-highway vehicle riding, hiking, boating, paddling, birding and biking. Approved activities are location and agency dependent, so it is a good practice to check the regulations at your intended destination before you go.

The U.S. Forest Service is responsible for 193 million acres of public land distributed among 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands in 44 states. Nevada is home to the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the largest in the lower 48 states. Of its 6.3 million acres, 5.9 million lie within Nevada. The forest is comprised of small geographical units scattered from Clark County to the Idaho state line. For more information, check out the forest website (

Nationwide, the BLM is responsible for more than 245 million acres of public land. Of those, approximately 48 million acres are located in Nevada and account for 68 percent of the state's land mass. Since this is public land, access rarely is an issue in Nevada except in those few areas where private lands create a barrier. Information on recreational opportunities in the Silver State can be found online (

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service manages "a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitat." In addition, the National Wildlife Refuge System is managed for six wildlife-dependent recreational uses: hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education and interpretation.

Nevada is home to nine such refuges, and four of those are within a two-hour drive of the Las Vegas Valley. Those are the Ash Meadows, Desert, Moapa Valley and Pahranagat national wildlife refuges. Information about the refuge system and its recreational opportunities can be found at

The National Park System comprises 397 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state (except Delaware), the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In Nevada, the National Park Service administers the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the Great Basin and Death Valley national parks and three historic trails - the Pony Express, California and Old Spanish trails. More information can be found at

■ DOVE HUNT DEADLINE - Hunters who plan to hunt doves at the Overton Wildlife Management Area for the opening day and first weekend of the season must submit a paper application for reservations. The application is available at and the Nevada Department of Wildlife offices in Las Vegas and Henderson. The application must be sent by a postal service and received at the NDOW Reno office no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His "In the Outdoors" column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at