Issues that are important to NVOBC
Protecting Public Lands: An Overview
Public lands are owned by every American. In Nevada, 86% of land is public land, managed by the federal government but owned by the American public. This arrangement ensures that families throughout Nevada and from across the country can access our state’s natural treasures— from the vermillion cliffs of Red Rock Canyon to the world’s longest-living trees at Great Basin National Park to the gleaming shores of Lake Tahoe — now and for years to come.
As Nevada diversifies our economy to draw more employers to our state, attention is turning to our many and varied outdoor recreation opportunities. Residents and visitors can hike, fish, climb, camp, hunt, ski, bike, and sail next to world-class amenities and entertainment. Our state invites us to explore and learn about Western and Native heritage and history while witnessing rare wildlife and plants. Whether visitors are looking to get away or bring the family, Nevada public lands offer it all. Small and large businesses in the hospitality, service, food and beverage, insurance, and recreation industry cater to these uses, employing thousands and helping grow local economies.
Without the proper policies in place, however, our state’s outdoor recreation economy and the parks, lakes, and natural playgrounds Nevadans enjoy could deteriorate, fall away to development, or vanish. Nevada’s decision makers have an opportunity to be champions for our beloved public lands, protecting the economic growth, recreation opportunities, and American beauty these places represent. The time to lead is now.
The Public View
A 2018 survey of Western state residents’ views of public lands, “Conservation in the West,” found that an overwhelming majority of Nevadans (86%) believe that outdoor recreation will be important to the economic future of Nevada, with 56% saying it will be very important. Nearly two-thirds of Nevadans (72%) think that Western states’ public lands and outdoor recreation opportunities give our region an advantage over other parts of the country. Significant majorities (higher than 70%) also agree that public lands help nearby economies, conserve national treasures for future generations, and must be protected so their children and grandchildren can experience them one day.
“Conservation in the West” also shows that two-thirds (66%) of Nevadans are worried about lacking the resources to properly maintain and take care of national parks, forests, and other public lands — a concern that is not assuaged by the funding fights in Congress. A similar percentage (67%) is also concerned about potential rollbacks of laws that protect our land, water, and wildlife. Nearly half of Nevadans (49%) polled said they oppose privatizing the services provided on public lands, further demonstrating that Nevadans favor keeping public lands in public hands.
For many Nevadans, visiting public lands is integral to our quality of life. More than three-quarters of Nevadans say they have visited federal public lands (national parks, forests, monuments, etc.) in the past year, including 47% who have visited them 1-5 times and 20% who have visited them 6-20 times. More than two-thirds (71%) of Nevadans polled consider themselves “outdoor recreation enthusiasts,” with another 68% saying they identify as conservationists. Additionally, polling consistently shows that communities of color support protection of public lands at higher rates than the general population.
Nevadans love our public lands and want to see them protected!
Outdoor Recreation Means Business
The Outdoor Industry Association released an analysis in 2018 that highlights the economic benefits to maintaining access to and funding for our public lands. Nationally, the outdoor recreation industry generates $887 billion in consumer spending, $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue, and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue, while employing 7.6 million people. In Nevada, the outdoor recreation economy generates 87,000 direct jobs, $4 billion in wages and salaries, $12.6 billion in consumer spending, and $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue. In fact, outdoor recreation sustains three times as many jobs as the mining industry. OIA’s assessment also found that Nevadans are more likely to participate in day hiking and backpacking than the average American, making public lands all the more valuable to residents of the Silver State.
Without public lands, Nevada would lose an economic powerhouse.
The Nevada Outdoors Business Coalition recognizes the importance of protecting the resources upon which our businesses depend. Our members share a solutions-based approach as well as the common goal of supporting public lands funding and initiatives that benefit the outdoor economy. We support appropriate conservation measures including roadless areas, wild and scenic rivers, and public lands management efforts that expand and improve opportunities for hiking, biking, paddling, climbing, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, camping, hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and other forms of both backcountry and close-to-home outdoor recreation.
Our business members took note of the cautionary tale illustrated by our neighbor Utah, who lost the biannual Outdoor Retailer Show to Colorado. This happened after state officials repeatedly, for years, called for the sale or transfer of federal lands to the states, attempted to nullify the Antiquities Act, and requested the rescission of two National Monument designations. In losing the OR show, Utah lost 40,000 annual visitors and $45 billion in consumer spending, benefits they had relied on for more than 20 years. Colorado now reaps the profits.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
Nevada Office of Outdoor Recreation
Nevada boasts significant public land and remarkable natural features. Our landscapes position us as a real force in the outdoor recreation industry. Unlike our Western neighbors, Nevadans enjoy remarkably wild and rural vistas AND Las Vegas, one of the most visited cities in the world, complete with affordable airfare and incredible lodging. At the same time, Nevada’s outdoor recreation industry is currently undervalued and largely untapped. Earlier this year, a federal government analysis of the economic impact of outdoor recreation confirmed what conservationists have argued for decades: outdoor recreation is big business and growing. That is why a growing number of voices are calling for Nevada to establish a state Office of Outdoor Recreation.
Seven states have Offices of Outdoor Recreation, including Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, while three have similar task forces (Maryland, Rhode Island, and Vermont). These state advocates differ slightly by state, but in general, act as high-level officials devoted to the health and growth of the outdoor industry. Nevada’s outdoor industry would strongly benefit from a state Office of Outdoor Recreation; outdoor businesses, sportsmen, conservationists and tourism interests all strongly urge legislative or administrative action in 2019 to open such an office in the Battle Born State.
National Monuments Protection
The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the President the authority to establish National Monuments in already federally managed public lands through presidential proclamation. National Monuments preserve areas that are naturally, culturally, or scientifically significant, generally protecting them from development or resource extraction. Like many National Parks, National Monuments tend to encompass Indigenous ancestral lands and even former Native reservations, key wildlife and plant habitats, and dramatic geologic features and fossils.
Nevada’s most recent National Monuments include Tule Springs Fossil Beds, Gold Butte, and Basin & Range. Tule Springs was designated through Congressional action, while the latter two were designated by President Obama in the final years of his Administration after extensive public comment. The current administration is seeking to remove protections from several National Monuments, including Gold Butte.
Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act
Nevada’s Congressional bipartisan delegation shepherded the passage of the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act in 1998 as an agreement between the federal government and local agencies to conserve key natural areas of Nevada while developing others. SNPLMA allows the BLM to sell public land within a specific boundary around the Las Vegas Valley and use the revenue to fund conservation projects. In 2006, an amendment to the bill allowed some of that money to fund other counties around Nevada. The revenue derived from land sales is split between the State of Nevada General Education Fund (5%), the Southern Nevada Water Authority (10%), and a special account available to the Secretary of the Interior for:
- Park, Trail, and Natural Area Projects (PTNA)
- Capital Improvement Projects (CIP)
- Conservation Initiatives (CI)
- Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP)
- Environmentally Sensitive Land Acquisitions (LANDS)
- Hazardous Fuels Reduction and Wildfire Prevention (FUELS)
- Eastern Nevada Landscape Restoration Project (ENLRP)
- Lake Tahoe Restoration Projects (LTRA)
SNPLMA also allows for land to be transferred to Clark County. SNPLMA initially encompassed 67,920 acres; 33,000 now remain for disposal. The SNPLMA boundary has been modified several times, the last being in 2014. Of the program, Governor Sandoval said in 2016, “The Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act is a great example of how public land going into private ownership is compatible with conservation and preservation efforts. SNPLMA will help spur economic development in the private sector and provide the necessary resources for conservation and habitat restoration and to reduce the risk of wildfires.”
Clark County Public Lands Bill(s)
In 1992, Clark County passed the Clark County Public Lands bill to ensure the protection of public lands through Southern Nevada’s population boom. The bill created 17 new Wilderness areas on 452,000 acres around Las Vegas and Lake Mead, as well as adding to the Mt. Charleston Wilderness — adding acres available to development while protecting valuable habitat and recreation areas.
The Clark County Commission is considering a new proposal that would build on the original bill and expand the boundary set by SNPLMA another 38,000 acres to allow opening more land for economic development and infrastructure, as well as transferring land to the Moapa Band of Paiutes. The Commission’s proposal would also add Wilderness areas, expand current Areas of Environmental Concern, and preserve desert tortoise habitat.
Language has not been finalized, as elected leaders and residents work to balance the development of one of the fastest growing counties in the country with the conservation of public lands that improve the quality of life sought by so many who move to Southern Nevada. The Clark County Commission is playing a critical role in convening stakeholders from the community with the goal of reaching an agreement on the final elements. Once there is a county resolution in place, a bill will be drafted and make its way through the Congressional process. Both Senator Heller and Senator Cortez Masto have expressed willingness to negotiate for the common goals of protecting land and expanding Southern Nevada’s ability to grow.
Washoe County Public Lands Bill (Proposed)
Modeled after SNPLMA, the Washoe County Commission’s public lands bill identifies federally owned areas in Washoe County that could be sold for development. Revenue would flow back to the Nevada BLM for projects like drought mitigation, wildfire prevention, and sage-grouse habitat preservation.
Washoe County currently has 600,000 acres of land designated as Wilderness Study Areas (WSA). Friends of Nevada Wilderness, along with other conservation partners, has worked with multiple stakeholders (primarily ranchers) to negotiate mutually agreeable wilderness boundaries within these WSAs. Despite this work, a limited stakeholder process led by county staff has resulted in the current proposal. Under this proposal, the Commissioners request to “release” 404,417 acres from that designation, and designate only 175,072 acres as Wilderness. An additional 83,324 acres would be designated as a National Conservation Area, though these designations are not contiguous and lack other usual characteristics of National Conservation Areas.
The proposal would need to be introduced and passed as a bill in Congress before taking effect. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has indicated to the county that she does not support its proposal and would not introduce it. Senator Dean Heller has previously indicated that he would not support legislation that did not have the support of all three local governments (Washoe County, City of Reno and City of Sparks). To date, none of these governments has taken an official position, though the proposal is very unlikely to be supported by the City of Reno.
Sage-Grouse Habitat Protection
Sage-grouse is an iconic Western bird at the brink of extinction. Throughout the past century, sage-grouse numbers have dwindled severely due to habitat loss, invasive species, energy development, and wildfires. In Nevada, there are more than 23 million acres of important sage-grouse habitat on federal public lands, about 63% of the total habitat occupied by the species in the state.
In 2011, Governor Sandoval commissioned a team to assemble plans for sage-grouse protection. In September 2015, after a thorough stakeholder-driven process and years of negotiations between conservation and industry groups, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service issued 98 new and revised plans for federal lands in the West intended to buttress the sage-grouse population. The plans balanced grazing, energy development, and land use management with conservation of key habitat. Nevada joined Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming in supporting the plans, which helped evade a listing under the Endangered Species Act for the sage-grouse.