Last Congressional session, Rep. Mark Amodei introduced HR 1484: the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act, a bill transferring millions of acres of Federal land to Nevada in a series of phases. The bill got a hearing last November, but died when the session ended on December 31. Now Amodei says it’ll stay dead.
“Transferring millions of acres of public lands… is not something I think the majority of people think is a good idea,” Amodei said to the Reno Gazette-Journal editorial board.
The bill was fairly expansive. HR 1484 “directs the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of the Interior to convey, in phases and without consideration, to the state of Nevada all interest of the United States in federal lands owned, managed, or controlled by the federal government through the USDA or Interior for the purpose of permitting the state to use them to support select beneficiaries.”
According RGJ, the first phase covered almost 7.3 million acres, half within a “checkerboard pattern that traverses the state from Sparks to Wendover,” and other land that the Bureau of Land Management has already “designated for disposal.” The second phase would transfer millions more acres.
Amodei was seeking public input for the bill last session, but the Nevada State Legislature shifted from Republican to Democratic control, and support for the bill never materialized. The decision is reminiscent of the February decision by Jason Chaffetz of Utah to pull a bill aiming to sell off three million acres of public land.
“People are being vigilant, and any attempts to divest our public lands is going to be met with great ire,” says Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “With what happened to Mr. Chaffetz — the clash that he had there was unprecedented. This issue has become toxic. If you’re going to push this forward, there’s an awareness around the issue that I don’t think has been seen in the past. Public lands hunters and anglers are heartened by Congressman Amodei’s apparent awakening to a fact most of us have known all along.”
The victory also comes after Trump’s executive order compelling the Department of Interior to review 27 national monuments, two of which are in Nevada (Basin and Range, and Gold Butte).
“Hunting, in particular, in Nevada, is part of the culture,” says Tawney. “Fishing is too. I think that in Nevada, public lands are king. The problem is there’s already been examples of Nevada divesting public lands.”
Indeed, Nevada received millions of acres of public land in 1864, when they became a state, to manage. By 1938, that number was reduced to 400,000 acres from divestment. In 1951, the state had divested its public lands down to 8,000 acres. Not exactly a promising track record.
“We’ll see more of this,” says Tawney. “Any politician that wants to put more of this forward, they’re going to face the public outcry. I think that politicians are smart, and want to be re-elected, so they’re backing off of this issue. But this does not go away. Every 10 or 15 years this happens. Right now, we’re successfully beating it back — but there’s so much money and greed at stake.
“We only have to lose this game once, and we lose it forever. If public lands are given to the states, and they divest them, we’re not getting them back, ever.”