Everyone Has a Stake in Keeping Public Lands Public

February 20th, 2019

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By Susan Juetten

Great Basin Resource Watch

In working with organizations such as Great Basin Resource Watch, as well as hiking and living in semi-rural Nevada for the past 30 years, I have come to deeply appreciate the wide open spaces, mountains and wildlife of this state.

I’ve been aware of persistent proposals over the years to transfer/privatize and industrialize federal lands. One thing they show is how wide apart the opinions and needs of Nevadans are regarding these lands, which are our greatest treasure, and belong to all Americans.

One effort to privatize federal lands took the form of AB227 in the 2013 State Legislature. The bill had the radical goal to transfer seven million acres of federal land over to state control in a phased implementation. In a report to the Interim Committee on Public Lands the proponents stated “… Nevada could generate significant net revenue were it afforded the opportunity to manage an expanded state land portfolio.” This conclusion was widely criticized and thoroughly debunked; the resolution to send it to the US Congress was defeated in the 2017 legislative session.

Rural towns and counties in Nevada need room to grow, and if proposals transferring modest amounts of federal lands to them were done with proper protections for the land, they might have more support. But we don’t have broad enough state level environmental laws to protect wildlife, indigenous landscapes, water, etc. from all sorts of intrusions, or from being sold off for development.

The motives of those who want to transfer multiple acres are suspect in part because national groups who support these efforts are about willy-nilly oil, metal and gas development and maximizing yields of every resource they possibly can exploit for private gain no matter what other values the land holds. The 2017 Washoe County Public Lands proposal, for instance, seemed like a developers’ dream and was opposed by a large, diverse, vocal swath of the public.

Plenty of data gathered over the last 20 years shows that the natural amenities of our public lands are a key to attracting “knowledge-based workers” who want to live in rural places, as well as visitors. Encouraging this type of growth seems to me a far more organic way to foster economic health in rural Nevada , in keeping with what we cherish here. Organizations made up of hunters and anglers who support strong federal land protection have active members in this state, and demonstrate that federal stewardship is not strictly a rural vs. urban but a statewide issue.

If you added up all the acres the proponents of privatization, including Representative Mark Amodei, the additional acres the Navy wants in the middle of the state and the Air Force wants in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, what will be left for responsible hunters, campers, hikers, dark sky lovers etc. to enjoy? With population pressures increasing yearly (last year Nevada had the second fastest-growing population in the country) and climate change upon us we need to protect large areas for habitat to remain healthy. As my farmer father once said of U.S. Forest Service lands we were surrounded with growing up: “They ain’t making it any more”: Once our federal lands are sold off, they will be taken away forever from Nevadans and all Americans.

Great Basin Resource Watch is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded in 1994 by a coalition of environmental, Native American and scientific community representatives.  We are a regional environmental justice organization dedicated to protecting the health and well being of the land, air, water, wildlife, and human communities of the Great Basin from the adverse effects of resource extraction and use.

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