The rush is on to give states more control of the vast expanses of public land within their borders.
While no wholesale transfer of land ownership is anticipated, states like Nevada would benefit greatly from any transfer of control over the management of land within their borders. For example, a revision of the Endangered Species Act — as proposed by our U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky – would give governors some authority over listings, which now total more than 1,650 species of plants and animals.
Also in the past week, President Donald Trump ordered the review of national monument designations, calling them “a massive land grab.”
Management decisions affecting public lands are critical for the economy and lifestyles of residents in states like Nevada, where more than 80 percent of the land is federally controlled. Upon introducing the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act for the third time, Heller said the dramatic changes are needed because environmentalists increasingly use the act as a tool to block development of public and private lands at the expense of economic growth.
“Nevadans — not Washington bureaucrats — know how to best protect the sage grouse,” Heller said.
We not only agree, we believe his case has been proven by federal authorities themselves. When the time came to craft the Bureau of Land Management’s regulations over “Sagebrush Focal Areas,” studies were conducted across seven regions of sagebrush habitat. Such a move would not have been necessary if the landscape were amenable to a one-size-fits-all approach.
The revised ESA would require specific approval from Congress and the governors of states where the fish or wildlife live. When sage grouse were being proposed for listing a few years ago, Gov. Brian Sandoval told us he did not believe the species was warranted for inclusion. Nor did state our wildlife officials, who routinely sell hunting licenses to people who want to shoot and eat the birds.
Trump’s review of national monuments could also result in more state control. Echoing Heller’s statement on the Endangered Species Act, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke complained that tens of millions of acres have been designated as national monuments in the past two decades, limiting their use for timber harvesting, mining, and oil and gas exploration.
A monument designation in Utah has been mentioned as one of the most controversial but Nevada also had monuments designated by Obama – three of them, totaling more than one million acres. These are in addition to the hundreds of so-called “wilderness study areas” that already set aside more than 12 million acres in western states.
Nevada may never control more than 20 percent of its land mass, but our residents still deserve to be heard when it comes to managing those lands. We agree with Zinke that any “local community affected should have a voice” in public land decisions.
We have also noticed that the Nevada Lands Council has shifted its goal away from transfer of public land ownership to states. Chairman Demar Dahl, who witnessed Trump’s signing of the executive order on national monuments last week, said Zinke seemed receptive to discussing the idea of transferring management, rather than ownership, to the states.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what Zinke turns up in his review of monuments, and what steps the Interior Department will take regarding the sage grouse and endangered species.
The developments during Trump’s first 100 days in office are pointing in the right direction. We look forward to seeing what might be accomplished during his remaining 1,360 days.