Dozens Rally For Public Lands Protection - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Dozens Rally For Public Lands Protection

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The use of public lands is a hot topic, every legislative session.  While there are no bills that would seek a land transfer from the federal government to the Nevada, there is one that would ask Congress to maintain the designations of Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments.

"These are all of the things that Nevadans love about living here, is that access to all of those public lands, and so we want to make sure that DC will listen to us," Assem. Heidi Swank, D-Las Vegas said.

Swank is sponsoring AJR 13.  Dozens gathered in front of the legislative building to show support for the bill, and to show concern about any changes to the use of public lands.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to give back to these lands that give so much to us," Shaaron Netherton, Executive Director of Friends of Nevada Wilderness said. "We love public lands."

About 85 percent of Nevada's land is federally owned, and much of it is open to the public for things like hiking, biking, kayaking and off-roading.

"You have this wide open space that just speaks to a lot of people and that kind of idea of the west and of freedom and those wide-open spaces really speak to that feeling," Swank said.

Some Republican lawmakers say they like the open spaces, as well, but think the state should have more control of what happens on them.  In previous sessions, bills have been presented to transfer control of the land to Nevada, including one from Assemblyman John Ellison.  Four years ago, his bill created a study of the impacts of federal land in all 17 counties.

"Just about every school and every public building in Las Vegas is on public lands," Ellison, R-Elko said. "So, what we're trying to do is get it back to the state and let the state make these decisions."

That resolution was sent to Washington, D.C. While some feared the bill would allow land to be sold to ranchers and businesses, Ellison says that would not happen.

"It would still have BLM and Forest Service land but the State of Nevada would have control over our hunting, over our ranching, over our recreation," Ellison said.

Others say a transfer of land would mean a transfer of expenses that are currently paid with federal dollars.

If we would take over the lands that are currently owned by the federal government, there would be a lot of expense there," Swank said.

"All Americans own these public lands in Nevada, and the nice thing is all Americans kick in for their up-keep," Netherton said.

Some lawmakers say not all federally-owned land is good for the state, and that recreation is just one aspect of public lands.

"If you have 49 other states in control of your land, what do you get? Yucca Mountain," Assem. Jim Wheeler, Minden said.

Yucca Mountain has been a very controversial topic for decades.  The proposed nuclear waste storage site has been shelved over the years, but has come back on the radar in recent months.  Wheeler argues that is why AJR13 is nothing but a formality.

"Resolutions are letters to the editor," Wheeler said. "They're gonna send it off to Washington and somebody's gonna look at it and go, 'Gee, here's what the 2.7 million people in Nevada think about it. What do they think the other 300 million think about it?"

Swank says she is not opposed to all transfers of land, but says so much land is in rural areas without enough resources for anything other than public use.

"It has to be very carefully done, and we want to make sure that the folks that end up owning and using these lands are good partners for the state," Swank said.

Still, many residents say a land transfer would mean fewer outdoor opportunities for residents and tourists.  Wheeler says the transferring land would not impact recreation.

"No one wants to take recreation away from anyone in Nevada," Wheeler said. "We just want control over it."

"Do we want to have somebody that has nothing to do or never seen Nevada or never been here, make decisions for Nevada?" Ellison said.

Ellison says some cities are completely landlocked by federal property, preventing outward growth and slowing their economies.

"The city of Elko, 17 years trying to get a piece of land on the west end of Elko.  You just don't get it," Ellison said.

While Swank says these are valid issues, there are other considerations that acquiring land for economic or population growth.

"There's a lot of moving parts here, more than just growth and public lands," Swank said. There's also all of those natural resource issues that come into play when we think about development and expansion of our cities."

Whether rural or urban, Wheeler says the state has a better understanding of how to use the land.

"When we have wildfires that are worse than anything we've ever seen because the BLM refuses grazing on our lands, there's something wrong with that," Wheeler said.

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