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EDITORIAL: Land grab

To no one’s surprise, Barack Obama last week arbitrarily put more restrictions on a wide swath of land northeast of Las Vegas known as Gold Butte.

In naming the area a national monument under the federal Antiquities Act, the president put 300,000 acres under the domain of the Bureau of Land Management despite opposition from most residents who live and work near the area and no appetite in Congress for such an action.

The federal government controls far more land in this country — particularly in the West — than it can possibly manage to any effective degree. That includes more than 85 percent of the property within Nevada’s borders. Yet greens and conservationists argue that shifting some of these vast tracts over to private or state control would be an egregious affront threatening access to cherished vistas.

But as the president’s moves makes obvious, the greatest threat to those who use and enjoy Nevada’s vast open spaces is actually the federal government. It’s utter nonsense to argue that any successful effort to force Washington to divest a small portion of its Nevada real estate portfolio would precipitate an environmental tragedy.

To that end, perhaps Mr. Obama’s latest land grab will actually inspire those working to reduce the federal government’s considerable holdings. The Associated Press reported last week that supporters of such efforts are focusing on a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., called the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864.

The bill, which expired at the end of the last session, called for two phases of land transfers. The first would cover nearly 7.3 million acres, about half of which would traverse the state from Sparks to Wendover. Phase Two would transfer millions more acres managed by the BLM, U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation “upon request by state or local governments.”

Even if the measure eventually succeeds, federal agencies would still oversee about 75 percent of Nevada.

Yet the environmental lobby disingenuously portrays all this as some sort of nefarious effort to stop sportsmen and hikers from enjoying their favorite fishing holes and trails while sticking state taxpayers with fire suppression costs and enriching evil miners and developers.

In fact, there is no earthy reason for federal bureaucrats to run herd over 85 percent of the Silver State. State and local agencies — and private interests — would have incentives to be far better stewards of the land than functionaries taking orders from administrators 2,300 miles away in cushy Beltway offices. Such a shift could make these lands much more economically productive, generating property taxes and creating business and job opportunities.

Rep. Amodei offers a modest proposal to get a fraction of Nevada’s land under the control of those who will be far better caretakers. His bill deserves a hearing and eventual approval.

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