By Leah Wzientek | Originally published in the Reno Gazette Journal
As a local business owner in Nevada, an avid outdoor recreator and regular resource for the outdoor community, I see firsthand the many ways in which we all benefit from Nevada’s incredible public lands. Our state is full of jaw-dropping mountain ranges, valleys and vistas, as well as special historic landscapes that welcome millions of locals and visitors annually. The majority of these lands are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, yet only a small portion of these landscapes are permanently protected for future generations to revel in.
While special places like the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area here in Northern Nevada and the newly designated Avi Kwa Ame National Monument outside of Las Vegas offer a refuge for outdoor recreation, wildlife and indigenous cultural connections, many Nevadans might be shocked to learn that these protections are rare.
In fact, 92% of the nearly 50 million acres of public lands managed by the BLM in Nevada are open for mining, solar development, gas exploration and other extractive activities. Unfortunately, this is a trend across the majority of BLM-managed lands in the West. Despite having a mandate to manage public lands for multiple uses, the agency historically has favored extractive uses and development over conservation and outdoor recreation.
Nevada is at a decisive time in our state’s history as we face impacts from a changing climate, drought and increased demand for recreation and access to nature. In addition, we have commendable goals to transition to 50% renewable energy by 2030. It’s more important than ever to ensure the BLM has the tools and direction it needs to prioritize balanced management practices, in addition to taking a “smart from the start” approach when permitting renewable energy development like solar on public lands.
Today, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help the agency do exactly that by supporting its newly proposed “Public Lands Rule,” which will help modernize BLM policies to place conservation on equal par with other types of uses of public lands. Announced in March, the “Public Lands Rule” will rebalance the agency’s priorities and develop an inclusive conservation approach.
As a coalition of entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders of the outdoor recreation industry in Nevada, we know that managing public lands with an approach that balances conservation and outdoor recreation with other uses has a positive impact on Nevada’s local and state economies. Visitation to public lands drive a $454 billion outdoor recreation economy nationwide that supports more than 4 million jobs. In Nevada alone, the outdoor recreation industry contributed nearly $5 million to our economy and over 50,000 jobs in 2021 and holds so much promise for our future, only if protected.
We urge the public to join us in supporting this new plan from the Bureau of Land Management that will help protect our state’s wildlife, watersheds, cultural resources and outdoor pursuits. You can weigh in by participating in the Bureau of Land Management’s comment period, which ends June 20, 2023, and the upcoming public meeting, which will be held at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center on Thursday, June 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. Learn more and take action at actnowforpubliclands.org.
The “Public Lands Rule” will have a lasting impact on Nevada’s prized public lands, as well as our recreation industry and economy. Let’s make sure we make our collective voices heard to protect these wild spaces for future generations to enjoy and recreate.
Leah Wzientek is the co-owner of Gear Hut, a consignment gear shop specializing in human-powered mountain sports and a member of the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition. Leah lives, works and plays in Reno.