U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Carson City, told the Nevada Legislature Monday he’s “a big proponent of transferring much of our land back to local or state government control.” Me too!
Heller and the rest of Nevada’s congressional delegation recently engineered a transfer of 130,000 acres of federal land to the state, a transfer that will benefit the Fallon Naval Air Station and Clark, Elko, Humboldt, Lyon and Storey counties. That’s a good start for those of us who think the Feds control way too much of our Nevada lands — more than 85 percent of our state, to be specific.
Renegade Southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy didn’t do us any favors, however, when he and his ultra-right wing posse rode into town to convince the Legislature to demand that the federal government turn over all of the Nevada land it controls. That’s not going to happen, of course, but it’s an issue worth discussing in a serious way, as Heller did on Monday.
Even though Bundy and his merry band of fervid followers managed to make fools of themselves, they did trigger a necessary discussion on why so much of our state land area has been controlled by Washington-based bureaucrats.
That’s the case because the silver barons who engineered statehood for Nevada in 1864 agreed to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated lands lying within said territory.” That sounds like the old Panama Canal treaties, downright un-American.
Well, President Carter disavowed the Canal treaties and I see no reason why Nevada’s elected representatives can’t negotiate a more equitable agreement with the Feds in the 21st century. Those of us who believe in states’ rights don’t understand why we should sit by and acquiesce in this continuing federal land grab.
Nevadans who are willing to let Washington bureaucrats manage our lands should re-think their position on this issue. After all, we live in a republic where 50 sovereign states manage their affairs as they choose, and not according to Washington dictates, although the Obama administration has pushed for federal control over many aspects of our daily lives. Hopefully, as of 2017, a new administration will reverse that trend, including the effort to turn Nevada into the nation’s nuclear waste dump.
But back to the lands issue, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages most of the federal lands in the Silver State, including the parcels where Cliven Bundy grazes his cattle in Southern Nevada. The BLM badly mismanaged the scary showdown with Bundy last year by sending in heavily-armed rangers to confront Bundy and his heavily-armed followers. Fortunately, no shots were fired and the standoff fizzled out as BLM rangers put down their guns and rode away.
Clearly, federal law requires Bundy to pay grazing fees, as do all other Nevada ranchers, and he should pay those fees. In other words, Bundy should obey existing laws as he challenges federal ownership of Nevada lands.
Why should we blindly accept BLM decisions on how Nevada lands are managed? For example, BLM is a co-conspirator in Burning Man, the annual naked drug festival that dumps more than 60,000 “free spirits” onto the formerly pristine Black Rock Desert playa in a National Conservation Area (NCA) every fall. I don’t think that’s a proper use of public lands but respect the Burners’ right to disagree. Actually, I might shut up if they’d leave their kids home.
So I hope the Legislature will pass a bill as the first step in a concerted effort to transfer federal lands in Nevada to state and/or local control, where it belongs in our republic.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, believes Nevadans can and should manage state lands.