- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) - Nevada’s No. 2 elected official said Tuesday it’ll be important for ranchers, miners, power companies and recreational users to keep building momentum if they want states to gain control over vast Western rangeland currently managed by the federal government.

Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison convened a meeting about public lands promising a push to acquire some of the more than 85 percent of Nevada currently administered by federal agencies including the military, forest service, park service and the Bureau of Land Management.

“Western states are going to have to collaborate and bring a lot of pressure on Congress,” Hutchison said, “because nothing happens in Congress without a lot of pressure.”

Hutchison joined Nevada Association of Counties executive chief Jeff Fontaine and Lorinda Wichman, a councilwoman whose sparsely populated district in sprawling Nye County is twice as large as the state of New Jersey, to point to findings in July from a statewide task force that Nevada would benefit if it gained control of the lands.

“The analysis showed that there would be a net gain for the state,” Fontaine said of the Nevada Land Management Task Force’s report. “The assumption is that the state would have the ability to utilize those lands to derive sustainable economic benefits.”

That conclusion and Hutchison’s conference drew criticism from an advocacy group, Battle Born Progress, as a forum for those who want to seize public lands and turn them over to state and local governments to sell off to the highest bidder. Democratic State Sen. Kelvin Atkinson and Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said in a statement issued through the organization they don’t believe the state and counties have money and resources for wildfire protection, trail maintenance, law enforcement and other services that federal agencies provide.

The summit-style conference at a hotel resort in North Las Vegas followed the release last week of federal rules restricting land uses to protect the greater sage grouse without declaring the bird species endangered. Lawsuits have already been filed over the decision, which has implications for oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing and other uses of the land.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, had appealed in recent months to President Barack Obama and the federal Bureau of Land Management to keep the bird off the endangered species list.

Hutchison, also a Republican, said Tuesday that the conference’s goal was to “collaborate, discuss, negotiate, legislate and try to solve some of these challenges that get pretty hot at times.”


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