Congressman won’t revive bill to transfer federal land

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Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada, shown here at an April town hall meeting, says he will not revive a bill that would have transferred millions of acres of federal land to the State of Nevada. Reno Gazette-Journal photo.


As published by Reno Gazette-Journal

RENO — A proposal for the federal government to unload millions of acres of land in Nevada probably won’t return to Congress.

That’s according to Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who introduced a massive lands bill last session and had considered reviving it.

“Transferring millions of acres of public lands … is not something I think the majority of people think is a good idea,” Amodei said during an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal editorial board.

During the previous session of Congress, Amodei introduced a measure known as the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act.

The first phase covered nearly 7.3 million acres, about half within a checkerboard pattern that traverses the state from Sparks to Wendover. Other phase one land included property the Bureau of Land Management has already “designated for disposal.”

The second phase would have transferred millions more acres. A summary of the bill called for non-exempt lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation to be “conveyed upon request by the state or local governments.”

The bill got a hearing in November but died when the congressional session ended Dec. 31.

Backers of the bill hoped to revive the issue, and Amodei sought public input on the subject.

Widespread public support for the idea never materialized.

The Nevada Legislature, which in 2015 approved a resolution in support of the concept, shifted from Republican to Democratic control.

“If they haven’t passed (a resolution) yet that said we hated that resolution and we want it gone I expect them to before they leave town,” Amodei said.

Also, the Nevada Wildlife Commission, which controls the Nevada Department of Wildlife, in February voted unanimously to send Amodei a letter summarizing opposition from dozens of hunters and anglers who testified on the idea.

A Colorado College poll of voters in Nevada and six other Western states in January also showed majority opposition among Democrats, Republicans and independents to transferring federal land to state or other hands.

In remarks Monday, Amodei said he won’t revive the bill.

“Will that be being reintroduced in that form, no,” he said.

Amodei isn’t the only western lawmaker to walk away from a sweeping lands bill following tepid support from the public.

In February Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, withdrew a bill that would have shifted about 3 million acres of public land out of federal control. He cited opposition from hunters and anglers as a reason.

The decision to back off a revival of the measure was one of several public land issues Amodei discussed in the interview.

He also expressed mixed feelings about a Trump executive order that directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the status of several presidentially designated national monuments, including Gold Butte, and Basin and Range in Nevada.

Trump issued the order in response to complaints that President Obama and other presidents may have designated monuments without adequate public input.

Amodei said he researched the designation of Gold Butte near Las Vegas and it appeared the public was adequately informed in advance that the monument would cover about 300,000 acres.

“They have always talked about that number, fair enough,” Amodei said.

Basin and Range, Amodei said, didn’t achieve a similar consensus to justify the approximately 700,000 acre size. The monument area includes a mile-and-a-half-long site with an art installation by artist Michael Heizer and American Indian rock art sites.

“My issue on Basin and Range is for an area the size of the state of Rhode Island it would be nice to have some level of record for why the size of Rhode Island is really needed,” Amodei said.

Opponents of Basin and Range incorrectly characterize it as an imposition, said Kyle Davis, a conservation lobbyist.

The monument designation, he said, will preserve the area from future mining and energy development but it doesn’t restrict activity people are already doing.

“You can still hunt, you can fish, you can trap, you can drive on existing routes,” Davis said. “It is tough for me to see this huge imposition.”