Newspaper column: Whither the state’s effort to take control of public lands?

In March 2015 Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, introduced H.R. 1484, dubbed the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act, which, if passed, would require the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to convey to Nevada a portion of the federal public lands they now control and thus partly fulfill an implied promise do so when Nevada became a state 152 years ago.

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources finally got around to conducting a hearing on the bill this past week, though Amodei had been seeking such a hearing for more than a year. The subcommittee took no vote and Amodei is under no illusion the bill has a chance of passage in this session of Congress.

The bill calls for the federal government to transfer ownership of 7.2 million acres of public land to the state in its first phase and about 10 million acres in a subsequent phase. That would still leave the feds controlling about 70 percent of Nevada’s land mass, but down from the current 87 percent, the most of any state.

Testifying in favor of the bill was Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl, who chaired a year-long study of the land transfer proposal by the Nevada Land Management Task Force.

Demar Dahl testifies before House subcommittee.

Demar Dahl testifies before House subcommittee.

“I had an opportunity to meet with President-elect (Donald) Trump in August,” Dahl said in his opening remarks. “I said, ‘If you had a hotel with 10 floors on it and eight of those floors were controlled by a bureaucracy that you had virtually no control over that was over 2,000 miles away, how would that work?’

“And he said, ‘I think that you’re actually closer to 90 percent owned and controlled in the state of Nevada by the federal government than you are to 80.’ And that’s true — 87 percent of the state of Nevada is owned and controlled by the federal government.”

The task force Dahl headed up was created by the state Legislature in 2013 and consisted of one member of every county commission in the state, 17 in all.

At their first meeting Dahl said he asked the members whether they thought at the time it was a good idea to transfer land to the state, and more than half said it was not a good idea or they were not sure.

Over the next year the task force met 13 times to hear testimony from state agencies, the Farm Bureau, the Sierra Club, various sportsman groups and other stakeholders.

“As we went through the year I could see the lights come on of all of the members and by the time we finished every member was supporting the transfer of the public lands,” said Dahl, a rancher.

An economic analysis contracted by the task force found that the state could expect a net revenue of $350 million a year from controlling the land.

All 17 county commissions voted to support the land transfer effort and in 2015 the proposal passed both houses of the Legislature and resulted in H.R. 1484.

“On the issue of transferring the public lands we discovered that there is more among the residents of the state that unites us than divides us. For the sportsmen, the environmental community and resource users there’s much that we can agree on,” Dahl told the subcommittee. “For instance, 1484 calls for the transfer of all valid existing rights and uses. If you can hunt, fish, camp, graze or prospect on the public lands now, you will be able do it after the transfer.”

No parks, monuments, military or Indian land would be transferred.

Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn of Colorado said to Dahl that people in other parts of the country think residents of the West don’t care about the federal lands, that states would allow a few more barrels of oil to be tapped under a world-class trout stream and the people on either coast need to tell us what to do.

Dahl replied, “My question would be: Why would the people who live there and care for the land, who are able to use it more than anyone else, even though after the transfer people from all over the world will continue to be able to use it, but why would the people of Nevada care less about the land and care less about preserving it for their children, their children’s children and for generations to come?”

Two of the bill’s co-sponsors — Republican Joe Heck and Cresent Hardy — were defeated in the recent election. Where will their Democrat replacements stand on this bill?

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

Trump is picky about who he forgives and Heck ain’t one of ’em

Donald Trump is rather fickle, perhaps even flighty.

While Mitt Romney, who called Trump a phony and a fraud during the early part of the campaign, is being considered for the post of secretary of State, Joe Heck, who disavowed Trump only after the profane, boastful, misogynistic recording was revealed, can’t get a crumb from Trump.

From the transcript of the Trump interview with The New York Times:

And a senator in Nevada who frankly said, he endorsed me then he unendorsed me, and he went down like a lead balloon. And then they called me before the race and said they wanted me to endorse him and do a big thing and I said, ‘No thank you, good luck.’ You know, let’s see what happens. I said, off the record, I hope you lose. Off the record. He was! He was up by 10 points — you know who I’m talking about.

Actually a representative who wanted to be a senator.

The true meaning of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is rich in traditions. The turkey. The dressing. The pumpkin pie. The family assembled in prayerful reverence in remembrance of the plight of the early settlers of this country — much of which is complete fiction.

The Plymouth colonists set out to live in an idealistic communal fashion. Everyone would share equally in the products of the colony. But after nearly starving to death in 1621 and 1622, Gov. William Bradford abandoned the social experiment and gave each family its own plot of land, and whatever was produced on it was the rightful property of the owner to consume or trade.

Gov. William Bradford

The result was a prosperous harvest in 1623 followed by a feast of Thanksgiving.

Capitalism saved the colony.

The American Institute of Economic Research has posted online its own retelling of the Thanksgiving story, along with passages from Bradford’s recollections from “Of Plymouth Plantation,” translated into more modern spelling.

The AIER notes that the colony was attempting to live in the manner described in Plato’s Republic in which all would work and share goods in common, ridding themselves of selfishness and achieving higher social state. The problem was that hard work was not rewarded and laggardness and sloth went unpunished.

Bradford wrote:

“For the young men that were able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. then he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc. they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could man husbands brook it.”

Before the colony could die off from starvation, Bradford divvied up the land and introduced private property.

The governor wrote:

“And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end. … This had a very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little-ones with them to set corn, which before would a ledge weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

And the result was, again in Bradford’s words:

“By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”

This is the real lesson of the first Thanksgiving: Capitalism always triumphs over communist utopian fantasies. Humans will work for their own self interest and, instead of it being greedy and rapacious, all benefit and prosper.

A version of this blog has been posted on Thanksgiving for several years.

A suggestion for a president commuting prison sentences

Obama has now commuted the federal prison sentences of more than 1,000 prisoners, mostly non-violent drug offenders. Most have served far more time in prison than if they committed the same crime today, because previous mandatory sentencing laws have been relaxed.

Which brings us to H.R. 5815 — Resource Management Practices Protection Act of 2016 — introduced by Oregon Rep. Greg Walden. The bill would amend the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which was passed following the Oklahoma City bombing and requires a minimum of five years in prison for anyone convicted of damaging federal property by fire or explosives.

The bill would exempt from prosecution anyone who sets a fire on his own property to prevent damage — such as a backfire — or if that person is using a generally accepted practice for managing vegetation on timber, grazing, or farm land and fire doesn’t result in death or serious bodily injury.

Which brings us to Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, two Oregon ranchers now serving mandatory five-year sentences because fires set on their own property escaped onto federal land, burning 140 acres — one was a controlled burn and the other a backfire.

Even if passed, the bill would not result in the freeing of the Hammonds but could protect others from such frivolous prosecution in the future.

The bill has cosponsors from Idaho, Washington, Arizona and Utah but none from Nevada.

It was the sentencing of the Hammonds that prompted protesters earlier this year to takeover a federal wildlife refuge for more than a month. The protesters included two of the Bunkerville Bundy brothers, already notorious for their standoff with federal agents in 2014 who were trying to confiscate their cattle.

A jury earlier this year refused to the prosecute the Bundys and other protesters for the refuge takeover, but the Bundys and others face charges next year over the Bunkerville incident.

Obama announced in 2014 that he would use commutations to right the wrong of overly harsh sentences that did not fit the crime.

The Hammonds would appear to fit in that category.

The Hammond family

The Hammond family

Obama administration throws in towel on pressing for de facto immigration amnesty

The election of Donald Trump has prompted the Obama administration to throw in the towel and seek a delay until after the inauguration of a court case challenging Obama’s executive fiat effectively granting amnesty and benefits to millions of illegal immigrants.

A Texas judge ruled in February 2015 that Obama’s executive order exceeded his powers under the law, but the case was being appealed. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals twice upheld the injunction and a deadlocked 4-4 Supreme Court left the injunction in place.

The Washington Times is reporting that the Justice Department and the states fighting the amnesty order, which includes Nevada and 25 other states, filed a joint request with federal Judge Andrew S. Hanen saying, “Given the change in Administration, the parties jointly submit that a brief stay of any further litigation in this Court before beginning any further proceedings would serve judicial efficiency and economy so that the parties have a better understanding of how they might choose to move forward.”

In his ruling, Judge Andrew Hanen stated that “ the states cannot protect themselves from the costs inflicted by the Government when 4.3 million individuals are granted legal presence with the resulting ability to compel state action. The irony of this position cannot be fully appreciated unless it is contrasted with the DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) Directive. The DAPA Directive unilaterally allows individuals removable by law to legally remain in the United States based upon a classification that is not established by any federal law. It is this very lack of law about which the States complain. The Government claims that it can act without a supporting law, but the States cannot.”

The judge said if the government were allowed to start issuing benefits but the executive is later overturned or legislatively countermanded there would be irreparable harm to both the states and the immigrants. 

At the time of the ruling Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt called the injunction a victory for the rule of law.

A dedicated journalist who covered the world still does … in a way

A rainbow formed in Red Rock Canyon as friends gathered to spread the ashes of a colleague.

A rainbow formed in Red Rock Canyon as friends gathered to spread the ashes of a colleague.

Laura Myers covered the world for The Associated Press and several newspapers, including the Las Vegas newspaper, now a little a bit of her ashes have been spread in far flung reaches of the world.

On Sunday a dozen friends and former co-workers spread the last of those ashes at Red Rock Canyon, where she loved to hike and climb. Ashes also have been spread at Lake Tahoe and in California, I think, and recently Jeff and Jenny Scheid left some along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which Laura had said she wanted to hike. Myers died of cancer in June of 2015 at the age of 53, before that could happen.

Her obituary by close friend Jane Ann Morrison described her passion:

She lived to work. Though diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in March 2013, she worked steadily until six weeks before her death. Despite excruciating pain, she was a prolific writer, breaking news and crafting stories that were thorough, accurate, clear and fair. She kept her personal political leanings to herself and out of her stories, though activists from each major party often accused her of leaning one way or another.

She was so concerned about not showing or even forming any inkling of bias toward any of the candidates she covered that she told me she refused to vote in any of the races she was covering.

Myers was inducted in the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame a year ago to commemorate her remarkable career, which began in 1984 at the Reno Gazette-Journal:

The Associated Press hired her in 1988, first to cover news in Carson City, then San Francisco-San Jose, Calif., where she covered the Rodney King riots.

She would leave and return to the news cooperative several times over a 20-year career. Her first departure was in 1992, when she joined the Peace Corps in a remote village in Togo, West Africa.

In 1995, the news agency offered her a plum job covering politics, foreign affairs, the military and national security in Washington.

The AP had to wait, though, because Myers had a three-month contract with the American Refugee Committee, managing logistics at a refugee camp in Goma, Zaire, now the Congo.

During the 1990s and 2000s, aside from her day jobs, she worked with Habitat for Humanity in Uganda, Mongolia and New York.

After another stint with AP, in 2007 she worked for Food for All of Washington, distributing food to the needy and the elderly.

As Morrison explained, Laura Myers was a huge movie fan, and it was the movie “The Way” that inspired her desire to trek the Camino de Santiago.

I hired Laura in 2010 to cover the senatorial campaign on the recommendations of two of her friends and former co-workers — Morrison and Laura Wingard.

Laura Myers

Laura Myers

I think I first understood what a talented reporter Laura was when I read her profile of Sharron Angle, then a long-shot but the eventual nominee of the Republican Party to take on Harry Reid in 2010. It was the first time the people of Nevada got an unvarnished glimpse of this hard-driving, tough-talking, and deeply-devout politician.

You can tell the true mettle of a journalist by what she has written.

Myers and friends on a peak at Red Rock

Myers and friends on a peak at Red Rock

The profile was skillfully crafted, using metaphors to paint a word portrait of a many-layered candidate. It was matter of fact, without the judgmental tilting so many liberal journalists resorted to in reporting on Angle as a Bible-thumping, pistol-waving grandma — though Laura conceded later that she was a bit surprised when Angle showed her the pistol she carried in her pickup.

Laura wove anecdotes into political insight. The story was no cream puff though. It noted that four out of 10 voters did not recognize Angle’s name with less than three months until the primary. It quoted one of those ubiquitous experts as saying her chances for the nomination were slim.

In her obituary Morrison quoted then-Deputy Editor James G. Wright, who had worked with Myers in Algeria, as saying,  “Laura was absolutely fearless, and she was one of the smartest and toughest people I’ve ever known. She had a great sense of humor, truly cared about people and was intensely loyal to her friends, but at the same time she was a loner. She made her own way in the world, on her own terms, and she didn’t give a damn if anyone else liked it or not. She embodied the Nevada spirit.”

Hers was an indomitable spirit.

memory

Friends gather to spread ashes.

 

Editorial: State agency orders feds to return stream to church retreat property

Erosion on church retreat property.

Over a tiny tract of land — nestled in the middle of the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge northwest of Pahrump that a church uses for a retreat — a state agency has pierced the dark bureaucratic clouds with a ray of sunshine.

In 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rerouted a stream that had run through the Ministero Roca Solida (Solid Rock) church’s 40-acre parcel of private land since at least the 1880s. The church purchased the land in 2006 and used the stream for traditional baptisms. The federal agency claimed it needed to reroute the stream so it could reintroduce speckled dace, an endangered minnow.

The rerouted spring-fed stream promptly overflowed its poorly engineered banks during a rain storm in 2010, presumably washing away the dace as well. Flooding occurred again in 2015 and twice this year, extensively damaging buildings and creating massive gullies.

But in an order dated Nov. 4 the state Division of Water Resources, arbiter of water rights in Nevada, demanded that Fish and Wildlife within 90 days return the stream to its original banks transversing the church retreat property or face a fine of $10,000 per day.

The state water agency concluded that the contention by Fish and Wildlife that it was reestablishing a historic natural drainage course is clearly wrong and the Carson Slough historically traversed the church land and the church has vested rights to the water, as well as the evidence to prove it, dating as far back as 1887.

The Solid Rock church, pastored by Victor Fuentes, a Cuban immigrant, has been fighting the federal land agency in court for several years with the aid of Nevada Policy Research Institute’s legal arm, the Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation. The court case is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

“Getting the water returned would be a major first step in making the Ministry whole, after years of suffering litigation and egregious constitutional violations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Joe Becker, director of NPRI’s legal unit. “However, the Ministry still suffered significant harm in the interim from the federal government’s actions — including repeated flooding and five years of flood damage resulting from the illegal water diversion project.”

The first flooding caused $86,000 in damages, but subsequent floods have created so much damage the church is seeking $3 million or complete restoration of the property to its original status. Becker said, “A mini-grand-canyon now cuts through what was once lush wetlands, and the significant improvements made to structures and the land for the benefit of young campers are being undone with each recurring flood.”

The state’s action is a step in the right direction toward restoring the church’s property and water rights, but the federal government needs to repair or pay for the damage it has caused.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.