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EDITORIAL: State rightly joins Jarbidge fight against federal government

If Nevada wants to gain more control of the land within its borders, it will have to fight the federal government for that land. So it was refreshing to see last week that the state has taken a step forward in the Jarbidge dispute.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean, the Nevada Attorney General’s Office is siding with Elko County in a 16-year-old federal court case over the ownership of roads across public land. Attorney General Adam Laxalt announced that his office filed a “friend of the court” brief supporting the rural county in its long fight over the South Canyon Road near the tiny community of Jarbidge, just south of the Nevada-Idaho line.

Mr. Brean noted that the case dates to 1999, when the county and residents calling themselves the Shovel Brigade set out to reopen a 1.5-mile stretch of the remote road closed by U.S. Forest Service officials after it was damaged by Jarbidge River flooding. The federal government sued over the unauthorized road repairs, which officials said threatened a protected species of bull trout.

So the government sues because citizens of a county band together to fix a washed-out road? And what a surprise that the lawsuit was in the name of a protected species — because the federal government has done such a good job for Nevada with regard to the desert tortoise, the Devil’s Hole pupfish and perhaps soon the sage-grouse.

It’s just another reminder to Nevada citizens that the federal government owns more than 80 percent of all land in the Silver State, more than in any other state not only in the West, but in the entire nation, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service study. Colorado is ostensibly the dividing line, with 36.2 percent of its land owned by the feds. Every state east of Colorado has 10 percent or less federal ownership, save Florida, which is at 13.1 percent. And in many cases, federal elected representatives of those states — be they Republican or Democrat — argue against Nevadans having more control of their own land, quite hypocritically so when states such as Texas and a host of others have less than 2 percent federal ownership.

Mr. Laxalt said the state has stepped in because control of public land is an issue that dramatically affects all Nevadans. That’s certainly the case when the feds own four out of every five acres. While this issue is about roads and public land, it speaks to the overarching issue that the state needs to gain more control of all its land, in order to put the land to more productive use. Of course, the best possible use is to put more of that land into private citizens’ hands, in order to enhance economic development and get the land on property tax rolls, where it can help bolster revenue. Right now, the federal government gives the state pennies on the dollar, if that, to control all that land. We’re paying through the nose to have that land kept from us.

Kudos to Mr. Laxalt and the state for stepping into the fray on Jarbidge. Let’s hope it’s only the beginning to getting more of our land back.

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