Amodei Privatization Promoter: This Time It’s Public Land

No trespassing public land Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) is happily promoting his notion that the state of Nevada should control more of the federal land within its borders; the Reno Gazette Journal poses some serious questions:

“U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei has started meetings to transfer millions of acres of public land in Nevada from the federal government to the state.

He is coming off an election win and, more importantly, he was Donald Trump’s Nevada campaign manager through controversy and celebration. Now he may have the juice to finally realize his longtime dream of transferring land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management to the state of Nevada.

While this may bring control over the land closer to home, it will also put Nevada taxpayers at risk and decrease options for outdoor enthusiasts.” (emphasis added)

For the moment, let’s focus on the taxpayers side of the ledger, as summarized in the Gazette Journal editorial:

“There are big costs borne by whoever controls these lands. A few examples include fighting wildfires covering tens of thousands of acres every year; defending lawsuits by ranchers and environmentalists over land use; and simply monitoring tens of thousands of square miles of open range for people who would abuse it. If sage grouse are ever declared an endangered species – as it very nearly was recently – use of the land would be blocked until the species recovers, creating costs and ending any potential revenues. In each of these cases, all American taxpayers currently foot the bills. Under new plans, Nevada taxpayers will be on the hook – either by increased taxes or decreased services.”  [RGJ]

First, a bit of supporting evidence for the Gazette Journal’s editorial position. The newspaper is correct – fire fighting is an expensive business.

The latest statistics available online concerning the total costs for fighting wildland fires show that Nevada had a lucky year in 2015 – California not so much so.  The “Rough” Fire which began on July 31, 2015 and wasn’t contained until October 12, 2015 cost about $120,930,243. [NIFC pdf]  However, a state needn’t be as unfortunate as California and Alaska were in 2015 to have high firefighting expenses.  The 2012 statistics show that Nevada’s Long Draw Fire cost $4,360,000 and the Holloway Complex Fire cost $9,166,719. The Bull Run Fire cost another $4,816,272.  [PSNIFC pdf]

It’s all well and good to complain vociferously about the BLM and the National Forest Service – until the fire starts, the winds increase, and the state (not the national) taxpayers are liable for the associated expenses.  It’s also well worth noting that wildland fires often require multi-agency coordination, such as that provided by the National Interagency Fire Center.  The NIFC includes the Forest Service, the BLM, the National Weather Service, the National Park Service, the BIA, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and FEMA.  Consider for a moment the resources these combined agencies can bring to bear on a fire situation, and how these resources cannot be duplicated by a single state.  In 2015 the Nevada state fire assistance budget for the Division of Forestry was $1,348,200.  The Landscape Scale Restoration budget was $300,000. [FSUSDA.gov pdf]

The obvious way for the State to dodge responsibility for these kinds of expenses is to privatize (aka sell) the formerly public lands.   The Gazette Journal is also correct in citing Texas as an example of a loss of access to formerly public lands.  At present about 90% of the land in Texas is in private hands. [PWD pdf] The unique history of Texas creates a way to compare access in states with federal land management and a state with a traditional state and private management focus. [WOS] Loss of access in Texas spreads as urbanization, suburbanization, and resort development increase.

Anglers in California and Montana do well to hire guides, if for no other reason than not to get hit with trespassing charges in private waters. Want to hunt in Texas – there’s a map for that.  Idaho witnessed one of the more blatant examples of what happens under private ownership to the interests of hunters when ownership changes and the rules change along with it.  172,00 acres of land in Idaho were sold by the Potlatch Corp. to two Texas billionaires – who shut down hunting on their newly acquired property.

There’s something to be said for “freedom, private enterprise, individual responsibility,” and all the other catch phrases of modern Republican parlance.  There are other things to be said when the private owners cut off access to streams and rivers, hunting territory, snow mobile routes, hiking and horse riding trails, and historical or recreational sites.

There are also wildlife management questions to be answered if privatization is the result, even if access isn’t a leading issue.  Who protects the habitat for that which is hunted?  Who protects streams and habitat for trout, bass, and other pan fish?  Who raises the quail? How are these efforts to be coordinated?  Who pays for the coordination? Are these expenses shared nationwide, or is the expense posted to the state or to private entities?’

Privatization is a leading Republican banner …. leading straight for a barbed wire fence with a No Trespassing sign attached.

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