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EDITORIAL: Reduce Nevada’s vast federal land holdings

The federal government controls about 58.2 million acres of land in Nevada — more than 83 percent of the nation’s seventh-largest state by area. In no other state do federal bureaucrats enjoy anywhere near similar jurisdiction.

The inherent tension between those who live, work and recreate on or near government property and those who oversee the federal real estate portfolio — many of whom sit 2,500 miles away in comfortable Beltway offices — fuels the so-called “sagebrush rebellion.”

Nevada lawmakers have, from time to time, passed resolutions urging the feds to transfer portions of those holdings to the state or private interests. Not only would that provide for more local management, it would boost the state’s economic development efforts, particularly in rural areas.

Now Clark County officials appear poised to jump on board. The Review-Journal’s Henry Brean reported Monday that county commissioners will vote later this month on a resolution calling for Congress to open about 39,000 acres of federal land in Clark County for development, including “a large swath along Interstate 15 south of the valley.”

Details of the proposal remain unclear. But the plan appears to be modeled after the 1993 Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, which directed Washington to auction off thousands of acres of federal land in the Las Vegas area for private development. The money raised went to purchase other “sensitive” lands throughout the state and to various county recreational projects.

Mr. Brean reports that in addition to areas between Henderson and Jean along the I-15 corridor, county officials would like to feds to release acreage near U.S. Highway 95 and Kyle Canyon Road in the northwest and in the Eldorado Valley southwest of Boulder City. In return, the proposal would expand the Moapa River Indian Reservation, create new wilderness areas and develop additional conservation designations.

The idea that this must be a zero-sum proposition — for every acre of federal land sold, the government must purchase another parcel elsewhere under the guise of environmental protection — is ridiculous. The goal should be to encourage Washington to reduce the scope of its vast holdings in Nevada. But politics demands a pragmatic approach, so if certain concessions help push the measure along, so be it.

Clark County’s plan will no doubt have its critics — indeed, the radical environmentalists at the Center for Biological Diversity are already complaining that it will threaten the desert tortoise. But that’s just a convenient smokescreen. In fact, the litigation-happy legal warriors at the Center would sue to block any human development anywhere at any time.

At issue, here, is less than seven-one-hundredths of 1 percent of the federal land within Nevada’s boundaries. Clark County’s proposal makes eminent sense from an economic development standpoint. Members of Nevada’s congressional delegation should pick up the mantle and sponsor legislation to make this plan a reality.

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