Special to the Times

There are many in the western United States dedicated to taking back much of the public land the BLM has long had control of.

The American Lands Council is a non-profit organization made up of individuals, counties, businesses, organizations and community leaders; it is leading the charge to secure better access, better health, and better productivity of public lands through local stewardship.

At the same time, some others feel many myths and misunderstandings are being touted about the Transfer of Public Lands movement.

A recent article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal by Doug Nielsen, a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, claims, “the states simply don’t have the financial wherewithal to create and sustain the organizational infrastructure required to manage the nearly 640 million acres of publically owned lands that are now managed by the federal agencies…consider the states’ track record when it comes to federal land grants. It is none too good.”

In addition, Nielsen’s article claims “If America’s public lands become private, there will be no such thing as public input when it comes to managing them, and there will be no public access…”

Lincoln County commission chair, member of the 17-man Nevada Public Lands Task Force, and vice-chair of the Nevada Association of Counties, Kevin Phillips, strongly disagrees with Nielsen’s conclusions.

“This isn’t new,” he said. “While we were working on the whole thing for over a year, we had various sportsman’s entities in to take their input and hear their concerns. We grilled them extensively.” But he is not sure those groups really heard what was being said.

Phillips says there is a bill currently in the House of Representatives to address the checkerboard lands along the Humboldt River that flows through the towns of Elko, Carlin, Battle Mountain, to Lovelock and Humboldt Lake.

Phillips said because every other section of land along the rail line is either owned by the BLM or private parties, “It’s a hodgepodge, and nobody can do anything with it. You can see on the map how it follows the Humboldt River.”

The legislation request the Nevada Public Lands Task Force worked on that the state legislature sent to Washington is part of the current Congressional bill.

After listening to the concerns of sportsmen’s groups, environmentalists and conservationists when working on the Task Force project, Phillips said they sometimes came back with outlandish claims that if public lands were to become private, there would be no public access. He calls that, “A blatant, flat out lie.  Right now, the BLM is restricting access to places I used to go to as a youngster.” He said there would be “more access, not less, if it did become state property.”

“If more of the public lands in Nevada and other western states were to become state lands, Phillips said, “Then when you had a concern, you could go to your state capital. Now, you have to go to Washington D.C.”

He feels that Nielsen’s claims and comments in the article are misleading, and not in accordance with the recommendation of the Public Lands Task Force to Congress.

Phillips said the current bill, if passed, “would bring to Nevada over 7 million acres of land that has already been identified for disposal.”

He also strongly disagrees with Nielsen’s claims and supposed observations that states do not have the financial wherewithal to create sustain the organizational infrastructure required. Phillips stated, “There have been studies done in Nevada and several of the other states, as well as a recent national study, that gives analysis of how well neighboring states that do own most of their land, are being managed exceeding well with far greater return on investment by far than the BLM ever comes close to. We’d have better control, better access, better management.”

Phillips noted the Nevada Public Lands Task Force has completed their task and turned over their conclusions and recommendations to the state legislature which was crafted into a bill and forwarded to Congress. “It’s not unlike what several other of the western states have done as well.”