When Nevada was admitted into the Union in 1864 its Constitution contained a Disclaimer Clause, saying the state does “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”
It was intended to give the federal government a clear and unambiguous deed to the land so it could be sold, but to this day the federal government still controls 85 percent of the land inside Nevada’s boundaries and almost 50 percent of the land in the West.
In 1996 the voters of Nevada repealed the Disclaimer Clause, but nearly 20 years later little has been done to give the state greater say over that land.
A year ago, Rep. Mark Amodei, whose district includes the northern rural portion of Nevada, introduced a bill called Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act, which called on Congress to hand over 7.2 million acres to Nevada in a first phase. It failed.
But various efforts to at least nibble around the edges of land control are continuing.
Just this past week the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Federal Lands heard testimony on a bill from Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador called the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act (H.R. 2316). Amodei is a co sponsor of the bill and, though not yet a co-sponsor, Rep. Cresent Hardy, whose district covers the southern half of rural Nevada, is supporting the measure.
The bill would set up 200,000-acre demonstration areas on Forest Service land in any state in which the governor asks for it. State and local officials would then be responsible for managing the land, including allowing timber harvesting and using the revenue to support local needs under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000.
In testimony about the bill, Rep. Don Young of Alaska said he was upset with the Forest Service because it has stopped cutting timber and become little more than park rangers, resulting in massive forest fires. “The government does not manage the land properly, and that’s a fact,” he said, adding, “Now they’re asking for money to fight fires when we should be managing the timber.”
Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon testified that three of the largest forest fires in the nation occurred a the same time in his district this past year.
“We are seeing massive maintenance back logs at all of our federal land management agencies. This mismanagement has led to a decline in forest health that results in larger and more catastrophic wildfires negatively impacting Western communities,” Rep. Hardy said recently about federal land control. “When the federal government struggles to effectively manage its resources, it’s time to consider new and balanced approaches that involve local stakeholders and give states with responsible management laws an opportunity to prove that the best stewards of the land are usually those who live closest to it.”
A memo providing background about the rationale for the bill noted the Forest Service alone manages 193 million acres — about 8 percent of the United States. Over the past decade there has been an average of more than 73,000 fires burning an average of nearly 7 million acres per year. The biggest fires start on federal land and often spread to private lands.
The subcommittee was also told that declining timber harvests are devastating rural communities. Timber harvests have declined 80 percent over the past 30 years to the point the current harvest removes only 10 percent of annual growth. Since 1990, more than 400 timber mills have closed and more than 35,000 workers have lost their jobs nationwide.
This bill would take a small bite out of a huge problem. We encourage Amodei, Hardy and the rest of our Washington delegation to pursue this and other bills that can provide economic benefit and jobs, as well as reducing wildfires. — TM