I-Team: Western states on mission to grab federal acreage

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LAS VEGAS — The I-Team project “Rebellion on the Range,” which chronicled rekindled interest in handing tens of millions of federal acres to the states, predicted the anti-federal sentiment that exploded last year near Cliven Bundy’s Bunkerville ranch would likely surface across the West.

In the ensuing five months since the documentary aired on 8 News NOW, that’s exactly what has happened.

With Bundy and his supporters cheering them on, Nevada lawmakers considered proposals declaring that federal officials have no authority on public lands in the state. Legal counsel informed the lawmakers that the legislation was blatantly unconstitutional, but a watered down version was approved by a legislative committee this week.

Similar actions have been taken in other states, though critics say they are mostly symbolic, political or a waste of time.

Utah started the ball rolling by demanding the federal government surrender control of 20 million acres within the state’s boundaries. Lawmakers there agreed this year to spend $12 million on lawyers and lobbyists to make it happen.

In Arizona, the governor has until next week to sign a bill demanding the federal government surrender title to all public lands in that state.

The Alaska House just approved a similar bill, even after being advised by its own lawyers that the legislation is clearly unconstitutional. Editorials called the bill a political stunt.

New Mexico lawmakers are processing a bill to study wholesale transfer of public lands to the state. Similar proposals in Colorado have generated howls of outrage from sportsmen and outdoor interests.

Legislatures in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana have processed bills to authorize task forces or interstate compacts with the ultimate intention of gaining control of federal acres. That’s despite vocal opposition in all three states from sportsmen and conservation groups that are worried the states would simply sell the land to oil, mining or timber interests.

A majority in the U.S. Senate also approved a non-binding budget amendment to pursue land transfers. Critics say the lobbying effort has largely been funded by the oil industry.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., told the I-Team proponents haven’t thought things out.

“Let’s say we give 50 percent of the land to the state,” Titus said. “What are they going to do with it? Are they just going to open it up with no management? Who is going to pay for that? Who is going to regulate it? Are they going to have no regulations? How are you going to tax that? How are you going to allow it to develop? It’s very complicated.”

Former Nevada Assemblyman Paul Aizley chaired the legislative committee that studied public land issues in the state. He said Nevada cannot possibly afford to replace the hundreds of federal employees who manage lands statewide or the tens of millions of federal dollars spent each year on services such as firefighting.

That means that state would have to sell any land it acquires, cutting off public access. Whatever costs are incurred would likely be borne by Clark County taxpayers.

“In Nevada, Clark county pays for everything,” Aizley said. “So when they say, ‘let’s privatize the land,’ if they come up with some scheme for privatizing that doesn’t work, we are going to pay for it in Clark County.”

8 News NOW will air a revised version of “Rebellion on the Range” at 6 p.m. Sunday. The website 8newsnow.com also has a special section devoted to the project.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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