Rancher Cliven Bundy's recent dispute with federal agents has highlighted the issue of who controls public land in Nevada. But lawmakers have actually been contemplating this issue ever since the last legislative session.
Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl is convinced the state could do a much better job than the federal government at managing and profiting from its public lands.
"Yes, indeed, we can afford to do the transfer, and not only can we afford to manage it, but we could afford to make a considerable profit for the state," Dahl says.
And that would have to be the case because currently the federal government loses millions of dollars in Nevada on public lands. Dahl is chairman of the task force, made up of county commissioners, that's figuring out how a major land transfer would work and which lands to go after. A recent study done for them suggests Nevada has a lot to gain. It reports 4 million acres could yield anywhere from $30 million to more than a $100 million each year. Those numbers are based on four other Western states with much more state land than Nevada. Dahl says most transferred land would not be sold and would benefit the more populated counties, like Washoe and Clark, as well.
"This isn't just a rural issue, this is important for all of Nevada, especially because of the money that could be generated by the management of the public lands," Dahl says.
But this proposal makes Kyle Davis of the Nevada Conservation League very nervous.
"Our state doesn't have any kind of environmental review process to determine impacts on land, water, and wildlife. We don't have anything like the National Environmental Protection Act (known as the National Environmental Policy Act) and, if these lands were not in federal hands, then that would not apply," Davis says.
He says the study doesn't account for what the federal government spends on wildfires or future listings of endangered species, like the greater sage grouse. He's also skeptical about the projected revenues and considers the whole proposal unrealistic. After all, any large transfer of lands would require federal approval.
In the coming months, the task force will develop its plan before presenting it to a legislative committee in September.