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Public Land Plan Draws Complaints, Passes Anyway

Ken Lund/Flickr

Under the proposal passed by the Clark County Commission, the Moapa River Indian Reservation, home of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, will be expanded.

The Clark County Commission chamber was not a happy place for many who attended Tuesday.

Commissioners unanimously passed a recommendation to the federal government to turn thousands of acres of public land over to developers, while designating hundreds of thousands as wilderness areas.

"In a nutshell, this meeting was about growth," Heidi Kyser, staff writer for Desert Companion, said.

Kyser explained that the county is surrounded by federally managed, public land; in order to expand its developable boundary, changes must be made to the laws governing use of that land.

It has become more pressing as the Department of the Interior has been pushing the Bureau of Land Management to update its own management plan for public lands.

The proposal is a tradeoff between developers and conservationists, Kyser said. Developers will get land they can build homes and businesses on, and conservationists will get protected habitat for fragile species like the desert tortoise. 

But not everyone likes the proposal laid out by the county. Some complained that they were only told about the resolution, which now goes to Nevada's congressional delegation, two weeks ago.

Clark County responded that the federal government gave them a year to complete a process that normally could take up to 10 years.

Patrick Donnelly of the Center for Biological Diversity said his group was “deeply disappointed,” and that they were excluded from the process to develop the resolution.

He said the county "hand picked" conservation groups because it knew his group and others had concerns.

"Sure enough the only ones giving support were the ones giving input for the past several years," Donnelly said.

Kyser said support for the plan depended on each group's focus. Those that want wilderness protected were happy because the proposal includes designating more than 80,000 acres of wilderness, but those concerned about habitat preservation were unhappy.

While the deal split conservation groups, original inhabitants of the land were very happy.

Greg Anderson, of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, said his tribe has been trying for years to get back its tribal land. The resolution would increase that reservation by some 40,000 acres.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our tribe,” he said. "We've been asking for our land back for years. We had a bill in Congress before and it didn't go through."

While the Paiute Tribe is celebrating, the group that was perhaps the most disappointed was off-highway vehicles owners. They race in the area south of Las Vegas along I-15, where aa large swath of land would be developed, under the current proposal.

Off-road racers who use some of the area for the annual Mint 400 race say 40 to 50 percent of their race route could be impacted.

"There were business people who said, quite frankly, that this would put them out of business if this happened," Kyser said. 

The county is trying to work out a compromise for that group. Following the vote on the land transfer proposal, the county agreed to establish an advisory committee for the OHV community.

But the underlying problem is that Clark County is growing - like it or not - and the county is trying to make sure that growth aligns with its other goals.

"Clark County is really wrangling to have a plan that as many people as possible can agree on before another party comes in from the outside and just starts chopping off these lands willy-nilly and auctioning them off," Kyser said. 

The resolution will now be in the hands of Nevada’s elected officials in Congress. The county has asked that to be involved in the crafting and approval of a related bill as it moves through the process.

Heidi Kyser, staff writer, Desert Companion

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.