Fresh Ideas: Hands off our public lands

Last summer we went to visit an old friend who lives on the banks of the River Tweed, the internationally famous salmon fishing river that separates Scotland from England. He served us a huge salmon for dinner, caught from a pool right in front of his house.

It costs our friend more than $1,000 a day to fish in that river, even though it runs by his doorstep. And that’s cheap, he says, off-season rates. The river and its banks are owned by private landowners who charge whatever the market bears for the privilege of fishing in their river.

That’s the way it is in the British Isles. Private landowners own most of the wildlands and open space, and they charge a lot for hunters and anglers to use it. Only the wealthy can afford to hunt and fish. I was glad to get back to Nevada where I can hike, bike, explore and camp pretty much anywhere I want on the vast acreage of federally-managed public land.

Why am I telling this story? Because there are some in our state Legislature who want to grab that public land. In the 2013 legislative session, a bill passed setting up a task force to study how to go about transferring our public land to the state of Nevada.

The task force report, completed last summer, lays out a plan to transfer federal lands to the state that could limit access to public lands, degrade wildlife habitat and other natural resources, and probably cost our state plenty of money.

Now, Senate Joint Resolution 1 in this session, “urges Congress to enact legislation transferring title to certain public lands to the State of Nevada in accordance with the report prepared by the Nevada Land Management Task Force.”

“So, what?” You might say. Can’t the state manage the land as well as the feds do?

I don’t think so. Nevada has a poor history of keeping lands in public hands. The state was given 2.7 million acres at statehood. It sold and traded its way down to 3,000 acres today. If our public lands end up in state hands, are they going to just be sold to the highest bidder? There goes our public access.

Then there’s the cost of managing the land if the state decides to keep it for the people of the state rather than selling it to the highest bidder.

I’m thinking about the costs of wild horse management and fire fighting — two of the BLM’s biggest costs in the state. Do those who favor this ill-conceived idea really think our cash-strapped state government can afford to fight fires on millions of acres of land once it becomes state or private land — fires that are becoming larger and more frequent in these drought years?

To me and a lot of other outdoor enthusiasts, whether we hunt, fish, mountain bike, backpack, ATV, or just go camping with our families, the freely accessible public wild lands are the reason we love the Silver State. I can’t understand why some of our politicians want to take that away from us.

Anne Macquarie blogs about clean energy and climate change in Nevada at


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