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Interior Secretary Brings Money to Rural Counties, Says Nothing About National Monuments

basin_range_blm.jpg

Bureau of Land Management/Flickr

Rock formations at Basin and Range National Monument

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke came to Nevada yesterday.

He held a roundtable and press conference in Pahrump to announce the release of federal dollars for communities that lose potential property taxes because land in their county is publically owned and cannot be developed or taxed.

It is a program known as Payments in Lieu of Taxes or PILT. It was a program that President Donald Trump had threatened to cut.

Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen met with Secretary Zinke Monday. Schinhofen said his county will get about the same amount of money this year as in years past, but next year it is likely to be lower. Schinhofen said the cuts were part of the Trump Administration's efforts to balance the federal budget.

“I guess I’ll take the hit if we’re actually going to try to live within our means,” he said.

However, the commissioner explained that the money is used to fund vital services in the county and should not be considered discretionary funds. 

While leaders in rural counties across the western United States were happy to hear Zinke's announcement about PILT, conservationists and tribal leaders in Nevada wanted to hear something else from the secretary.

They wanted to know whether the Trump Administration intended to eliminate or scale back the national monument designations of Gold Butte and Basin and Range.

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Andrew Davey is the managing editor of Nevada Forward, a progressive-leaning blog. He was at the news conference with Zinke. 

"We were asking Secretary Zinke for details and he was being pretty cagey with us," Davey reported. "Ultimately, he did say the Trump Administration wants him to visit the states where these eight monuments are located. Eight monuments that are one President Trump's short list of public lands where they're looking to either reduce or revoke monument status."

One of the big criticisms of the trip Zinke took to Utah to survey the national monuments there was that he did not speak to many people who didn't want the national monuments changed. 

Davey said he spoke to the leaders of three tribes in the Southwest that report struggling to find someone in the White House to listen to their concerns.

Assemblyman Steve Yeager is also concerned that the voices of the people against reducing or revoking the monuments will go unnoticed by the secretary and the White House.

"There are some tribal leaders who are very interested in protecting these areas and at least they've indicated that their voices have not been heard and they have not been able to have an audience with Secretary Zinke," Yeager said. He said he would like the secretary to take the opinions of all Nevadans. 

There are people in Nevada who are opposed to the size of the Basin and Range National Monument. Commissioner Schinhofen is one of them. He said the monument was created with a huge swath of land and without the support of both the Nye County Commission and the Lincoln County Commission.

"We're not saying no to monuments. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue," he said, "For those people who want to go out and visit those things, it's great! We should have them but we don't need that big of a footprint." 

There is no word on when a decision is going to be made about any changes to the national monuments. 

Guests

Andrew Davey, managing editor, Nevada ForwardDan Schinhofen, commissioner, Nye County Commission; Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Dist. 9

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