John Muir, the father of America’s national parks, traveled all over the world, from the granite peaks of Yosemite to the teeming reefs of Australia. But it was after exploring the Great Basin of Nevada that he wrote, “Nowhere may you meet with more varied and delightful surprises than in the byways and recesses of this sublime wilderness.”
As we mark Nevada Public Lands Day, we’re reminded that our public lands belong to the people — all of the people. Today, the Bureau of Land Management manages about 48 million acres of public lands in the Silver State, prime terrain for hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, skiing, and nearly every other imaginable outdoor activity. Thanks to the Forest Service, anyone can visit Mount Rose or the Ruby Mountain Wilderness Areas. The National Parks Service allows us to see parts of Great Basin the same way John Muir saw it 150 years ago.
Yet a century and a half later, we’re still fighting to preserve that sublime wilderness — and right now, we’re losing the battle. The Trump Administration has stripped more than 13.5 million acres of protections, the most dramatic shrinking of public lands in American history. Here in Nevada, more than 23 million acres of public lands are at risk of losing their protection.
Without these protections, powerful special interests are pillaging public lands. That might enrich their shareholders, but it leaves the people of this state and this country much poorer. When public lands are no longer public, they’re often sold to developers and closed to hunters, fishers, and the general public. These actions are defended in the name of economic development. But when ecotourism in Nevada supports more than 87,000 jobs and generates $1.1 billion in tax revenue, targeting our public lands actually hurts Nevada’s economy.
The threat to our public lands now also threatens our ability to tackle the climate catastrophe on the horizon. Forests and grasslands capture carbon from the atmosphere. Healthy ecosystems help protect clean water and breathable air. Selling public resources to the highest bidder may seem attractive in the short term. In the long run, however, the price will include more intense droughts, greater wildfires, and increasingly destructive hurricanes.
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Thankfully, Nevada has been a leader when it comes to protecting our public lands. In 2017, Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton and State Senator Nicole Cannizzaro spearheaded the bill that established Nevada Public Lands Day, while Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen and State Senator Melanie Scheible sponsored legislation opposing an attempt to encroach on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. Under Governor Steve Sisolak, there’s now a state Division of Outdoor Recreation to prioritize the stewardship of Nevada’s outdoor economy. Groups like the Nevada Conservation League and CHISPA have been vocal and effective in advancing conservation and environmental protection. Many of these initiatives have earned bipartisan support, reminding us that protecting our environment and meeting our climate crisis is possible if we summon the energies of every American, whether that’s a business owner in Las Vegas or a rancher in rural Nevada.
As president, I will bring together Americans to build on these efforts and protect Nevada’s public lands for the next generation. That means banning new leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal public lands, reversing the cuts to existing federally-protected lands, and designating new national parks and monuments. Together, we’ll mobilize Americans to plant billions of new trees in forests, national parks, and public lands across the country. And I’ll work with mayors and governors to increase access to green spaces for all Americans, like we’ve done in my hometown of South Bend.
More than a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt — a Republican — described a vision for the nation where our natural resources would not be monopolized by the few, but instead conserved for the benefit of all. “Of all the questions which can come before this nation,” Roosevelt said, “there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.” It’s a commitment shared by many Native tribes who were the original guardians of our natural world — whether it’s the Pokagon band of Potawatomi Indians in and around South Bend or the Southern Nevada Paiutes — who speak of making decisions that do right by seven generations.
When I’m president, we will meet our responsibility as stewards of America’s natural heritage, and preserve the beauty and bounty of our land for generations to come.