In 2015, the Nevada Legislature waded into the fight over the future of America’s public lands… And tended to side with forces who want many of these lands privatized. But this time, after then President Barack Obama declared Basin and Range and Gold Butte National Monuments, this current Legislature seems primed to deliver a much different message on keeping public lands in public hands.
In 2015, the Republican majority in the Nevada Legislature considered several bills to challenge federal authority over federal public lands. The most notorious of this bunch was then Assembly Member Michele Fiore’s (R-Las Vegas) AB 408 to endorse Cliven Bundy’s “range war” against the federal government. Ultimately, the Legislature settled on passing SJR 1 to endorse a large-scale transfer of public lands to the state for the primary purpose of the state selling these lands to private interests.
On Monday, the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections (LOE) Committee heard SJR 12 to rescind 2015’s SJR 1. The Chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee came over to LOE to explain why she wants 2015’s SJR 1 off the books.
“Is this fear of [public lands privatization] warranted? The answer’s an emphatic yes.” – Senator Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas)
Later in the hearing, several SJR 12 supporters reiterated Cancela’s statement. Red Rock Audubon Society’s John Hiatt warned the state doesn’t have enough water to develop all the public lands some in this state want privatized. “Nevada is the driest state in the nation, and the state with the most public lands. The two are related.”
Las Vegas Cyclery’s Jared Fisher agreed. “Watershed degradation means less water for us in the future.” Fisher then explained how ecotourists and bicycling enthusiasts from around the world approach him about the biking opportunities at famed Nevada public lands like Red Rock Canyon. “[Public land] is something we treasure here.”
Many more public lands advocates testified in support of SJR 12 in Las Vegas and Carson City.
“The purpose of public lands to protect and preserve the natural wonders of Nevada. […] This is all our land, to be used for the public good.” – Michael Sprinkle, from Carson City
That continued yesterday, when the Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining (NRAM) Committee heard AJR 13 to endorse the declaration of Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments.
Before the hearing, I spoke with Friends of Gold Butte’s Jaina Moan about why the Legislature is considering AJR 13. “[We] have been working 15 years to to secure designation. Thanks to the Antiquities Act, we now have it. [AJR 13] is a statement of support that shows our state’s rallying behind public lands. They provide economic opportunities. They provide recreational opportunities. They are cherished.”
“[AJR 13] shows the world that we love our public lands, and that we want them to come and enjoy our public lands.” – Jaina Moan
Like the SJR 12 hearing, numerous public lands advocates in Las Vegas and Carson City spoke in support of AJR 13. A representative for Nevada Republican power player Sig Rogich rebutted opponents’ claim that the national monument designations was part of a “narrow political agenda”. “Protecting great American landscapes shouldn’t be a Democratic or a Republican issue. It’s an American value.”
Representatives from Friends of Basin and Range noted the broad array of support for the monument, from Las Vegas philanthropist Elaine Wynn to Michael Govan from the famed Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They urged the committee to protect the land that includes City, Michael Heizer’s land art project.
Later on, someone with deep ties to Gold Butte National Monument explained the importance of one of Obama’s final acts as President of the United States.
“Gold Butte is part of our ancestral lands. It’s part of who we are. […] We want to keep this land pristine, not just for our people, but for all people.” – Fawn Douglas, Paiute artist and activist
U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) has joined 25 other Senate Republicans to push federal legislation to essentially repeal the Antiquities Act. In this environment, public lands advocates see value in the Nevada Legislature reversing course to endorse public lands protection. The committees have until Friday to pass SJR 12, AJR 13, and other lands bills to move them to the full Assembly and Senate.