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.
- As the bill stands, Washoe County would lose three-fourths of its current Wilderness Study Areas. Northern Nevadans count on these areas to recreate.
- Northern Washoe County has some of the best intact sagebrush habitat in the West, including crucial sage-grouse habitat that is currently protected by these Wilderness Study Areas.
- Two of the Wilderness Study Areas are contiguous with the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, one of the few areas in Nevada that doesn’t have grazing impacts from cattle or feral horses.
Unlike SNPLMA, which uses the majority of its revenue to fund conservation projects, the Washoe County Commission’s proposal would divert much more revenue to private development -- meaning development the County can’t control and less access for the public. The proposal needs to be amended to preserve access to public lands and ensure Washoe’s 600,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas receive the protection they deserve.