Task force weighs pros and cons of public land transfer

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Updated: 4/25/2014 7:45 pm
RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- A special task force released its preliminary report on Friday about the pros and cons of transferring federal lands to the state of Nevada.

On the plus side, it could be an economic boon. The group cites a study showing a minimum increase in state revenues of a minimum of $370 million per year. But there are also potential downsides, including environmental concerns and costs.

This complicated issue is why the 2013 Nevada Legislature created the Public Land Management Task Force. This group is tasked with meeting with all the stakeholders, including all local governments and groups ranging from the Sierra Club to the state Farm Bureau.

Anywhere from 80-percent to 87-percent of the state of Nevada is owned or managed by the federal government. The feud between Cliven Bundy and the BLM put this issue in the spotlight recently.

The Chairman of the Task Force reviewing the pros and cons of the federal land transfers said there is already a consensus that local control is better. "Something like that, I don't think would happen if the state owned that land," said Demar Dahl. "We'd get that worked out."

But there is much more than grazing rights at stake. There is mineral exploration and other energy-producing interests.

"You know, we have a real interesting potential for oil and gas in Nevada now," said Dahl. "We have a lot of interest in northeast Nevada."

There are also other economic concerns. Critics have said the federal government has not been able to make any headway in dealing with public lands designated for disposal. They say it has landlocked some Nevada cities and towns.

"If the state had those we think we could, in a hurry, get that job taken care of," Dahl said.

On the plus side, the group has an economic study that shows Nevada could gain hundreds of millions per year, simply by managing the lands. The downsides include the costs for managing additional land.

Washoe County Commissioner David Humke is not on the task force, but has real concerns about this. "Sometimes when the federal government takes action, the state says, 'Well, we'll just pass that mandate along to the county or the cities,' and we're very concerned that could happen."

Humke said it would not be good if costs like additional firefighting services had to be absorbed by counties. "There's not enough tax in Washoe County to pay those costs, I don't believe."

The Task Force has come to some conclusions. Among them: Nevada can afford the transfers and management of the lands. Also, any public use will remain public use after any transfer.

The group is scheduled to make a recommendation to the Nevada Legislature before September 1.
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