Newspaper column: Annual Basque Fry will tout conservative values

Adam Laxalt addresses the 2017 Basque Fry. (R-J file pix

With Democrats holding strong majorities in the Nevada state Senate and Assembly, as well as every statewide constitutional office save one, there seems to be a sense of urgency about this year’s fifth annual Basque Fry coming Sept. 14 at the Corley Ranch in Gardnerville.

The conservative speakers, family entertainment and lamb fries fest is put on by Adam Laxalt’s Morning in Nevada PAC and is modeled after the Basque Fries his grandfather Paul Laxalt, a former Nevada governor and U.S. senator, used to conduct in Nevada and Washington. Adam Laxalt is the state’s former attorney general and was the Republican candidate for governor in 2018.

“We’re very excited about the fifth annual Basque Fry,” Laxalt said during a recent interview. “We’re fortunate this event has taken permanent hold in Northern Nevada. We expect a very large crowd again and think a lot of people are going to be very enthusiastic about it. We’ve talked, leading to the event, about the importance of trying to take back our state and we plan on discussing that at the Basque Fry.”

The list of scheduled speakers include Mick Mulvaney, acing White House chief of staff; Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, and his wife Mercedes Schlapp, a former White House director of communications; Matthew Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney general; Corey Lewandowski, who served as President Trump’s campaign manager; John Fund, a columnist for the National Review; Katie Williams, who had her Miss Nevada crown taken away for expressing conservative political views; and, of course, Laxalt.

Laxalt said he expects he and other speakers will highlight how radical and left-wing the Democratic Party and its presidential candidates have become, saying their positions do not align with Nevada values and are not good for our state.

“Some of our Democrats kind of hide out and they are not put on the record whether they are going to denounce these things or whether they support them,” he said. “So, I think it is important to get these positions on the record and in the public consciousness of Nevadans, so they understand what the Democratic Party represents today. The old blue-collar, fairly conservative Democratic Party that existed in Nevada a few decades ago, maybe even closer than that, is long gone. So we have to draw that contrast for everyday voters, especially swing voters in our state.”

Laxalt cited for example the Democratic position supporting open borders and denigrating the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and the laws they are duty bound to enforce.

He also expects the topic of media bias to be addressed. “It’s just frustrating, because for me it is the rule of law. I think that’s what has made our country unique and is an essential piece of what made America the greatest country in modern times. The other side will ignore the rule of law whenever it is politically expedient for them, and they rarely have the media holding them accountable for that kind of thing,” he said.

This year the Basque Fry is being held in conjunction with the Conservative Political Action Conference West, which is being put on by the American Conservative Union at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno the day before.

Laxalt said it is important for conservatives to build policy infrastructure. “To have such a nationally reputable organization like the American Conservative Union and CPAC to come to Nevada and create a CPAC West, I think is going to be great for us,” he said. “We need to rebuild the conservative intellectual base in this state, which we know was not encouraged in the last many years or supported. I think it is important that message is getting out and that people understand there is a strong alternative to progressivism, leftism, socialism, et cetera.”

One of the panels at CPAC West will address the Western lands policies over the past few decades, which have hampered the economic wellbeing of rural communities.

Laxalt concluded by saying, “This type of event is important to encourage people to engage, and if we don’t engage we will lose this state and we will lose this country. Unfortunately, many of our voters they don’t have politics as a hobby. They are raising families and running small businesses and things like that. It is just very hard to get people engaged in this otherwise ugly business, but we need people to get more engaged. I still feel confident if we get more and more people into the system, then we can win back this state.”

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.

Addition: Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is also speaking at the Basque Fry.

 

Newspaper column: BLM rule change doesn’t signal wild horse slaughter

Wild horses being affected by drought. (AP pix)

Wild horse advocates are apoplectic over a change in rules for selling off wild horses recently announced by the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management, saying it could lead to the animals being sold for slaughter.

In 2013, after learning that Colorado rancher Tom Davis, a friend and neighbor of then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, had over a three-year period sold 1,800 wild horses he had purchased from the BLM for slaughter in Mexico, the BLM instituted a rule that no one could purchase more than four wild horses in a six-month period without approval of the agency’s deputy assistant director of resource and planning.

In May, the BLM issued new guidelines saying up to 25 wild horses could be sold without prior approval up the chain of command.

“The federal government is about to resume selling America’s cherished wild horses and burros by the truckload, sending potentially thousands of mustangs into the slaughter pipeline against the wishes of 80 percent of Americans,” fulminated Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) in a press release this past week. “This Administration appears hellbent on destroying America’s iconic wild horse and burro herds, and this is the latest step on that path to destruction.”

Pay no heed to the fact the BLM spends 60 percent of its annual budget for handling wild horses and burros on warehousing 46,000 of them in corrals and private pastures, while there are 83,000 wild horses and burros on a range that can adequately sustain no more than 27,000. Nor to the fact that earlier this year BLM officials desperate to rid themselves of the expense of feeding all those “wild” animals were contemplating offering $1,000 incentives to anyone willing to take some off their hands.

An Interior Department inspector general report in 2015 found that Davis over three years bought truckloads of 35 horses at a time for $10 each and sold them to others who took them to Mexico for slaughter. Davis made up to $3,000 profit per truckload. The case was referred to federal and local prosecutors who declined to prosecute, criminally or civilly.

Davis told inspectors that BLM officials had to know so many horses were going to slaughter.

Congress for years has effectively banned the slaughter of horses for meat in the U.S. by denying funding for health inspectors.

The new BLM guidelines for selling wild horses say untrained animals may be sold for as little as $25 apiece, while horses trained to halter or saddle must fetch $125. Purchasers also must provide adequate feed, care and a facility, such as a corral, barn or stall.

Applicants also must swear that the animals are not intended for “slaughter or bucking stock, or for processing into commercial products …”

Though the limiting of sales to only four horses at a time appears to have not been financially conducive to either buyers or taxpayers, and despite the lessons learned from the Davis probe, AWHC’s Roy forecasts doom and gloom will result from the change in rules.

“When you’re selling horses by the truckload for $25 apiece, it provides a big incentive for slaughter,” Roy was quoted in her press release. “Since riding a horse to his first day of work, Interior Secretary Zinke has galloped down a deadly path for America’s wild horse and burro herds – from asking Congress for permission to slaughter tens of thousands of these cherished animals to promoting the mass surgical sterilization of mustangs and burros on the range. Zinke is pushing the livestock industry agenda to rid our public lands of wild horses and trampling on the wishes of American citizens in the process.”

In a recent interview, Nevada’s senior U.S. Senator Dean Heller said he has spoken with Zinke and a middle ground on this matter is being sought.

“Zinke assured me he’s looking at this issue. They’re looking at a number of different avenues how they can cull these herds without, frankly, having to remove some of these horses from the range, but they do believe they can put together a sterilization program and something that in five to 10 years can reduce the size of these herds,” Heller said. “There is a discussion out there. These discussions are being had — looking for a reasonable, reasonable answers to this, and trying to come up with a program or a process that both sides can agree on.”

When it comes to the taxpayers being on the hook to try to preserve non-native species in perpetuity, all means should be stoically explored.

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.

Editorial: Forget PILT checks, transfer federal land to Nevada

It’s that time of year again, when counties in Nevada and across the West squat on the street corner with their alms cups extended anxiously awaiting the tinkling sound of a few coins from the federal till — otherwise known as Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) — and certain politicians pound their chests and boast of their generosity.

Since 1977 Congress has parsimoniously paid out pennies on the acre to local governments to make up for the land the federal government controls but on which it pays no local property taxes. Since 85 percent of Nevada land is controlled by various federal agencies that is a lot of property tax to forgo.

In a recent press release the Interior Department announced it is doling out $552.8 million in PILT payments this year. Of that, Nevada counties are slated to net almost $27 million.

“Given that 85 percent of Nevada’s lands are managed by the federal government, the PILT program makes it possible for communities in Nevada to maintain critical public services across large swaths of federal land,” said Nevada Sen. Dean Heller in a statement. “That is why I welcome the Department of the Interior’s announcement that Nevada will receive nearly $27 million in PILT payments, and increase of more than $800,000 from last year. This additional funding will help ensure that Nevada’s rural communities can continue to provide public services such as law enforcement and road maintenance. As a strong supporter of the PILT program, I thank Secretary (Ryan) Zinke for recognizing my state’s needs and reaffirming his commitment to Nevada’s rural communities.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto also chimed in with a nearly verbatim crowing, “I applaud the Department of Interior for awarding nearly $27 million to our rural counties through the PILT program — an increase of $800,000 from last year. These funds are vital to local governments to provide essential services and enable local leaders to invest in development projects.”

Secretary Zinke put out a statement noting his Montana roots and saying, “Rural America, especially states out west with large federal land holdings, play a big part in feeding and powering the nation and also in providing recreation opportunities, but because the lands are federal, the local governments don’t earn revenue from them. PILT investments often serve as critical support for local communities as they juggle planning and paying for basic services, such as public safety, fire-fighting, social services, and transportation.”

What they didn’t say is that this year’s PILT payments increased by 19 percent over the previous year’s handouts, but Nevada’s check only increased by 3 percent, and the payments to four counties — Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka and Lander — actually decreased.

Nor did they make note of the fact the Interior Department alone collects more than $9.6 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on public lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting — a portion of which is shared with states and counties — meaning the PILT payments amount to only 5.7 percent of that revenue. And that doesn’t take into account revenue generated by Agriculture Department federal land holdings.

Also, Nevada got short shrift when compared to most nearby states. While Utah also saw PILT checks increase by a meager 3 percent, California’s payments went up 25 percent, Arizona’s 11 percent, Idaho’s 20 percent, New Mexico’s 11 percent and Oregon’s a whopping 88 percent.

PILT payments are based on a formula that takes into account the number of acres of federal land in each county, as well as the population. It is a formula that defies explanation.

Nevada on average is getting 48 cents per acre, having a population of 2.9 million and 85 percent of its land under federal control. But New Mexico, with a population of 2 million and only 35 percent of its land under federal control, gets $1.90 per acre. Utah, with a population nearly equal to Nevada at 3 million and 65 percent of it land in federal hands, is getting $1.24 an acre.

Every state adjacent to Nevada is getting at least twice as much per acre.

A report from the legislatively created Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted a couple of years ago that, while the Bureau of Land Management loses 91 cents an acre, the average income for the four states that have public trust land was $28.59 per acre. The task force estimated Nevada could net $114 million by taking over just 10 percent of BLM land.

Transferring federal land to local control is a much better solution than federal handouts subject to the whims of the current administration and Congress.

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.

 

Newspaper column: Neighbors hope Little Ash Springs remains closed

There are two sides to every story.

Four years ago the Bureau of Land Management locked the gate to Little Ash Springs north of Alamo for what was described as a couple of weeks due to a crumbling wall on a manmade pool. It remains closed.

Recently, the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke told the Las Vegas newspaper, “This is exactly why the federal government needs to clean up our act. I’m not in the business of locking the public out.”

He added, “We need to work with local communities and be better neighbors …”

Speaking of neighbors, Joe and Andrea Barker own the 13-acre tract adjacent to and downstream from the 1-acre BLM-controlled Little Ash Springs. Their property is known as Big Ash Springs and has 50 springs feeding 94-degree water into meandering shallow rivulets that are home to two endangered species — the White River springfish and the Pahranagat roundtail chub, found only in the Ash Springs system.

During a recent interview in their home atop a rocky outcropping overlooking the springs, Joe Barker said, “We thought that we might be able to manage some opening of this Little Ash Springs, but I think as time has gone on we, I guess, we’d prefer that it stay closed. And I think our view is that it is the headwaters of the protected species and the government should be the one protecting them.”

He said it seems unfair that private property owners, owning the vast majority of those springs, are really the ones protecting the endangered species.

The couple recalled that one Memorial Day there were 300 people at the site, though there are only two vault toilets. He said after such use the area would be strewn with trash — including bottles, beer cans, diapers, tampons and more. Andrea Barker added, “We’ve actually watched the water go from crystal clear to murky by 10 o’clock in the morning.”

The couple said the BLM told them the agency were not in the business of running recreational facilities.

Joe Barker, an aerospace industry retiree who bought Big Ash Springs 13 years ago, said when he bought the property he had contemplated opening a cafe with the springs as a visual and recreational amenity. At one time he said he and his wife presented the BLM with a plan that included Little Ash Springs and the BLM officials discussed letting them run Little Ash as a part of their venue, but shortly after a meeting the plan was withdrawn without explanation.

A group calling itself Friends of Pahranagat Valley has called for construction on the Little Ash Springs site of four manmade “soak” pools, boardwalks and bridges, a toll booth for an entry fee, additional parking, pavilions, volleyball pit and basketball court, expanded toilet facilities and hiring two or more employees to monitor the site. The group’s website suggested that federal grants and fundraising in the community could pay for the additions, though the Interior Department is actually tightening its budget.

Joe Barker said it would be best if the water from pools where people soak could be purified of bacteria and viruses before being released downstream, but the BLM told him the agency has no water rights and thus can’t legally divert the water.

He said there is still a possibility he might try to develop some kind of recreational facility on his property but he would probably need to treat the water coming in and going out for safety safe and to make it easier to obtain liability insurance.

But there is still the hurdle of how to deal with the endangered species. “The question was, What’s good enough (protection)? And they can’t answer that question. … You get different answers at different times,” Joe Barker complained, while noting fish count has recovered since the BLM closed Little Ash Springs.

Andrea Barker said the problem in the past was that it was not properly managed. “It was overused. Sometimes you would have several hundred people up there and two vault toilets,” she said. “People understand that the water is overused and would come and pour an entire gallon of bleach in it before they go swimming.”

Additionally, there were gangs who painted graffiti on nearby buildings, blaring music, religious services with blaring horns and even voodoo rituals, after which one woman told the Barkers there were more headless chickens than she could count.

Joe Barker said the site had become so dangerous locals stopped going there.

As Zinke said, perhaps the BLM needs to be better neighbors.

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.

Little Ash Springs as seen through the wrought iron fence from neighboring private property. (Mitchell pix)

Newspaper column: Move the headquarters of federal land agencies West

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a horse in the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah a year ago. (AP pix)

Head ’em up, move ’em out.

There has been a lot of talk since the Trump administration has taken over about where to locate the national headquarters of some of the nation’s federal land agencies. One land agency, the Bureau of Land Management, controls 11 percent of the nation’s lands, but 99 percent of that land is in the West.

Fully 85 percent of the land in Nevada is controlled by those federal land agencies, the highest percentage of any state, with 66 percent of the state lying under the purview of the BLM, while the rest of the public land is controlled by agencies such as the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Reclamation.

According to several news accounts, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a native of Montana, is open to moving the headquarters of some of the agencies under his command out of the District of Colombia and into the West, specifically the BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has a bill pending in Congress that would require moving the BLM HQ to Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington or Wyoming.

The bill states: “Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate and the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives a strategy for relocating the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Washington, DC, to a western State in a manner that will save the maximum amount of taxpayer money practicable.”

“You’re dealing with an agency that basically has no business in Washington, D.C.,” Gardner was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

The same story quoted northern Nevada’s Republican Rep. Mark Amodei as saying, “I’m excited about the fact that they’re looking at it,” though he stopped short of endorsing the bill at this time. The AP story went on to note that Amodei said he had spoken with bureau officials in Washington who know so little about Nevada they thought the land under a highway interchange was wildlife habitat.A similar bill to Gardner’s has been introduced in the House by Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton.

“Moving BLM’s headquarters West is a commonsense solution that Coloradans from across the political spectrum support,” Sen. Gardner said in a statement. “Ninety-nine percent of the nearly 250 million acres of land managed by BLM is West of the Mississippi River, and having the decision-makers present in the communities they impact will lead to better policy. Coloradans want more Colorado common sense from Washington and this proposal accomplishes that goal.”

Federal bureaucrats sheltered inside the Beltway have little appreciation of what lies in the vast open spaces of the West besides the beasts, bugs, birds and weeds that self-styled environmentalist claim need protection from devastation by ranchers, farmers, miners, lumberjacks and oil and gas explorers, who depend for their livelihoods on access to the land.

According to employee notes of a meeting between Zinke and executives of the U.S. Geological Survey this past summer in Denver that were leaked to Energy & Environment News, the Interior secretary reportedly said Denver “will probably” become headquarters to some of his land agencies by as early as 2019.

Another advantage of moving federal land bureaucrats out West is that it would require them to live in states and communities unable to assess property taxes on those federal lands in order to build schools, roads and hospitals and pay for police and fire protection.

Perhaps they would come to realize how paltry those Payment in Lieu of Taxes checks really are. Perhaps their neighbors can tell them how those PILT checks amount to only 5 percent of the $8.8 billion the Interior Department collects each year from commercial activities, such as oil and gas leases, livestock grazing and timber harvesting on federal lands that is sent to Washington.

When your own ox is being gored it gets your attention.

Head ’em up, move ’em out.

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.

Editorial: BLM moving forward with fire prevention effort

The Bureau of Land Management posted on the Federal Register a couple of weeks ago a notice that it is beginning the tedious paperwork process to finally do something to prevent the devastating wildfires that have plagued the Great Basin region in recent years.

The notice states the BLM will create two Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)— one will analyze the effects of constructing fuel breaks that clear flammable material along a swath of land to curb the spread of wildfire and another to study the effectiveness of restoring rangeland to counteract the spread of invasive species such as cheatgrass and conifers that burn too easily. The states involved include portions of Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, California, Utah and Washington.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires consumed nearly 10 million acres in 2017.

In September Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose responsibilities include the BLM, promised, “This Administration will take a serious turn from the past and will proactively work to prevent forest fires through aggressive and scientific fuels reduction management to save lives, homes, and wildlife habitat. It is well settled that the steady accumulation and thickening of vegetation in areas that have historically burned at frequent intervals exacerbates fuel conditions and often leads to larger and higher-intensity fires.”

The EISs, which are required by federal law, mark the beginning of fulfilling that promise. Comments may be submitted in writing until Feb. 20. Those comments may be submitted via:

* Website: https://go.usa.gov/ xnQcG.

* Email: GRSG_PEIS@blm.gov.

* Fax: 208-373-3805.

* Mail: Jonathan Beck, 1387 S. Vinnell Way, Boise, ID 83709

Meetings to discuss the proposed fire prevention efforts will be scheduled throughout the region and will be announced 15 days in advance in the local media and on the BLM website.

One of the reasons for the current initiative, according to the Federal Register notice, is that wildfires tend to increase the the risk of still more wildfires — a positive feedback loop.

“In warm, dry settings, sagebrush-steppe usually takes, at a minimum, many decades to recover, even where invasive annual grasses or other invasive plant species do not become dominant,” the notice states. “Invasive species and conifer encroachment can be exacerbated as a result of wildfires in sagebrush ecosystems, resulting in an increased risk of wildfires …”

Among the concerns that will need to be addressed and evaluated during the comment period and subsequent meetings is that fuel breaks and the accompanying road improvements, by their very nature, improve access for firefighters but also for the general public, which might lead to an increase in the number of human-caused fires. Also, such breaks reduce the cover for small wildlife to avoid predators.

The Associated Press quoted Matt Germino, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, as saying fuel breaks are a bit of a paradox. “Fires, especially large fires, are so unambiguously damaging to wildlife habitat in general — that is the motivating factor for getting these fuel breaks out,” he said. “At this point, it’s really difficult to predict which animal species will benefit and which ones won’t. Sometimes you have to just act in light of the uncertainty.”

That cautionary note aside, we strongly endorse this effort by the current administration to protect not only the environment but also those who earn their living from the land by ranching, farming, logging and mining and those who use the public lands for hunting and recreation. We encourage our readers to submit comments and attend meetings to counter the likely resistance by self-styled environmentalists.

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.

Firefighters battle blaze near Wells this past summer. (Photo submitted to Elko Daily News)

Editorial: Time to reopen Ash Springs to swimmers

File photo from Lincoln County Record

The Lincoln Country Record reported that the popular swimming hole at the Ash Springs hot springs north of Alamo was shut down because of possible safety hazards.

Someone had noticed a child playing near a wall of rocks that looked as if it might collapse any moment and a local law enforcement officer brought it to the attention of the Bureau of Land Management.

Victoria Barr of the Caliente BLM office told the newspaper, “The structural instability as well as bank erosion and undercutting has caused a concern for public safety.”

The report said the repairs might move slowly due to the presence of two federally protected fish — the Pahranagat roundtail chub and the White River springfish.

“The amount of time needed for repairs is uncertain at this time, but Barr thinks it could be, ‘weeks at this point,’” the paper recounted. “She said their plan is to go through an official closure, and then start a collaborative planning process with the stakeholders and other federal agencies. ‘We anticipate public meetings,’ she said, and when those meetings get scheduled, will be able to inform the public.”

Lincoln County Commissioner Adam Katschke said, “We miss having it open, especially the businesses in Alamo and Pahranagat Valley.”

Those “weeks at this point” have turned into four and half years. That report was published in July 2013 and the ol’ swimming hole remains closed to this day, testimony to the glacial pace of the federal land agencies that control 85 percent of the land in Nevada.

The Las Vegas newspaper reported recently that a BLM official said the agency is nearly finished with a draft environmental assessment for the site, but she could not predict when it might be made available for public scrutiny. So, paperwork has been pushed, but no dirt.

Local residents are said to be anxious to see Ash Springs reopen, but are concerned about how well the BLM would manage the popular tourist site if and when it does.

The paper quoted nearby land owner Cody Whipple as saying he and others would like to see the site turned into a small resort with fees collected for upkeep and repairs. He said the BLM is not in the resort business.

A group called Friends of Pahranagat Valley has stated they would like to create some soaking pools next to a fenced natural area where swimming would be prohibited to protect native plants and fish. Their plans include changing rooms, boardwalks and trails, improved restrooms, a paved parking lot, picnic pavilions, a playground and courts for basketball and sand volleyball.

According to Sunday editorial in the Las Vegas newspaper, the man in charge of the BLM, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, commented to the paper recently about the lengthy closure of Ash Springs, “This is exactly why the federal government needs to clean up our act. I’m not in the business of locking the public out.”

Zinke said Ash Springs will again be open and chided his agency for taking so long to resolve the issue. “We need to work with local communities and be better neighbors …” he was quoted as saying. “Local voices hadn’t been heard and people rightfully get upset when they get locked out.”

Perhaps a few of Zinke’s minions who would like to continue in their cushy, well-paid government jobs should pay heed to what the boss just said.

Whatever happens, it should be sooner rather than later for the benefit of the local residents and potential tourists who would help spur local businesses.

Frankly, the BLM should consider turning over the property to the state, county or a local entity — nonprofit or for-profit.

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.

Editorial: An ounce of wildfire prevention worth a pound of cure

A house burns in Napa County, Calif., in October. (Getty Images)

Wildfires have become an increasingly costly and devastating problem in the West over the past decades as federal land managers have increasingly restricted logging and road building and maintenance.

The average number of acres burned each year in the past decade has topped 6 million, compared to 3 million a year in the 1970s. As of the end of October of this year there already had been nearly 53,000 fires that burned more than 8.8 million acres. In 2015, 9.7 million acres burned by the end of October.

The cost just for fighting wildfires this year is approaching a record breaking $3 billion, and that doesn’t take into account the economic costs of burned homes, agriculture and infrastructure. The wine country fires in mid-October in northern California are estimated to have resulted in $85 billion in economic losses.

The cost of fighting fires for the Forest Service has grown over the recent years from 15 percent of the agency’s annual budget to 55 percent.

Currently there are efforts on two fronts to change land management practices and spending from the costly and dangerous battling of fires to actually preventing them from occurring.

Earlier this year, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who is over the Bureau of Land Management, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who heads the Forest Service, directed all federal land agencies to adopt more aggressive efforts to prevent wildfire through robust fuels reduction and other prevention techniques.

“This administration will take a serious turn from the past and will proactively work to prevent forest fires through aggressive and scientific fuels reduction management to save lives, homes, and wildlife habitat. It is well settled that the steady accumulation and thickening of vegetation in areas that have historically burned at frequent intervals exacerbates fuel conditions and often leads to larger and higher-intensity fires,” said Secretary Zinke in a press release. “These fires are more damaging, more costly, and threaten the safety and security of both the public and firefighters. In recent fire reviews, I have heard this described as ‘a new normal.’ It is unacceptable that we should be satisfied with the status quo. We must be innovative and where new authorities are needed, we will work with our colleagues in Congress to craft management solutions that will benefit our public lands for generations to come.”

On that Congressional front, this past week the House passed and sent to the Senate the Resilient Federal Forests Act, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican and licensed forester, that would shorten the environmental review process for forest thinning, curb frivolous litigation by self-styled environmentalists and allow federal land managers to contract with private lumber mills to remove dead and dying trees and use the proceeds of the timber sale to better manage the lands.

The bill passed 232-188, largely along party lines, with less than a dozen Democratic votes. Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei voted in favor of the bill, while Nevada Democrats Dina Titus, Jacky Rosen and Ruben Kihuen opposed it.

“This is a bill based on a simple idea — that we must do more to expand active management in federal forests,” Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, was quoted as saying. “With this bill, we tackle not only the symptoms of the crisis but also its root causes. We provide the resources for our firefighters, but also tools for our land managers to improve conditions on the ground and proactively mitigate the threat of wildfire.”

Rep. Amodei spoke on the floor of the House in 2015 in support of a similar bill that passed the House but died in the Senate, noting the need for fire prevention because once high desert forests in Nevada burn it takes a hundred years for them to grow back. He also noted that the fires devastate endangered and threatened species and their habitat.

Oddly enough, one of the main arguments against the bill by the environmentalists is that logging threatens endangered and threatened species. More so than raging wildfire?

We applaud the efforts by Secretaries Zinke and Perdue to spend our money more wisely and encourage the Senate to pass the the Resilient Federal Forests Act.

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.

Newspaper column: Bill would limit power to create national monuments

Gold Butte National Monument (BLM pix)

The House Committee on Natural Resources this past week approved a bill sponsored by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop to rein in the powers granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906 that allow a president to unilaterally create huge national monuments.

The bill advanced on a party line vote of 27-13, with Democrats in opposition.

The bill, H.R. 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, amends the Antiquities Act to limit the size of future monuments and specifically grants the sitting president the power to reduce the size of existing monuments — a power Democrats have argued President Trump does not have under current law.

During his administration President Obama created 26 national monuments totaling more than 500 million acres — including the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument on the border of Lincoln and Nye counties and the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County.

President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review recent monument designations and Zinke sent a memo to the president recommending the reduction in size of six of those, including Gold Butte. The president has not yet acted on those recommendations.

Bishop’s bill would allow the president to unilaterally reduce the size of any monument by 85,000 acres — and by more with the consent of affected counties and states.

The bill would allow a president in the future to create a new monument unilaterally, but only up to 640 acres. Anything larger than that, up to 10,000 acres, would require an environmental review. Anything between 10,000 and 85,000 acres, the apparent size cap on new monuments, would require approval of counties and state officials, as well as the governor.

“Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally dictate the manner in which all Americans may enjoy enormous swaths of our nation’s public lands,” Bishop was quoted as saying. “Designations are no longer made for scientific reasons or archaeological value but for political purposes. Unfortunately, overreach in recent administrations has brought us to this point and it is Congress’ duty to clarify the law and end the abuse.”

Like the Natural Resources Committee, Nevada’s congressional delegation is divided along party lines when it comes to national monuments. The four Democrats have all objected bitterly and volubly to reducing the size of Nevada’s monuments.

But its two Republican delegates in January introduced legislation that would prevent future designations of monuments in Nevada without the consent of Congress — the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act of 2017 (H.R. 243, S. 22).

The legislation introduced by Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei is terse and to the point. It basically piggybacks onto current law that reads: “No extension or establishment of national monuments in Wyoming may be undertaken except by express authorization of Congress.” Their bill would amend this by simply adding the phrase “or Nevada” after the word Wyoming.

In response to Bishop’s bill passing the committee, a Heller press aide sent out a comment, “Unilateral federal land grabs in a state like Nevada where the federal government already owns 85 percent of our land should not be permitted. Public input and local support remain critical to the decision-making process of federal land designations, and that is why I’ve introduced legislation that prevents last year’s land grab under the Obama administration from occurring without input from Congress and local officials. I’ll continue working with my colleagues to see that it is signed into law.”

Congressman Amodei said in January before Trump’s inauguration, “I continue to be amazed by the fact that some people hug unilateral, non-transparent monument designations, while at the same time, protesting vehemently over the introduction and public discussion of congressional lands bills proposals. In contrast to the last eight years of this administration’s one-sided approach on major land management decisions in Nevada, our bill simply ensures local stakeholders have a seat at the table going forward.”

Bishop’s proposal also declares that existing water and land rights are to preserved despite a monument designation.

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.

Newspaper column: Jobs and wildlife can coexist

In 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that years of science-based protections by federal and state land use plans had substantially reduced risks to more than 90 percent of the greater sage grouse’s breeding habitats across its 173 million-acre range.

Thus, its extinction no longer imminent, the breed was removed as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Despite this finding the Obama administration unilaterally instituted draconian land use restrictions across 10 Western states intended to prevent any presence of the non-native, invasive species known as mankind.

But the Interior Department under Montanan Ryan Zinke is displaying an uncommon outbreak of common sense.

Just this past week the Bureau of Land Management canceled Obama’s prohibition of mining on 10 million acres of federal lands across six Western states, including Nevada. The BLM also announced plans to invite public comments on reworking land use plans that a Nevada federal judge had determined were illegal.

Greater sage grouse (BLM pix)

In a press release the BLM reported the withdrawal of 10 million acres was unreasonable, because mining affected less than 0.1 percent of sage grouse range.

“The proposal to withdraw 10 million acres to prevent 10,000 from potential mineral development was a complete overreach,” said acting BLM Director Mike Nedd. “Secretary Zinke has said from the beginning that by working closely with the states, who are on the front lines and a valued partner in protecting the health of these lands, we can be successful in conserving greater sage grouse habitat without stifling economic development and job growth. And that’s what we intend to do — protect important habitat while also being a good neighbor to states and local communities.”

The 10 million acres had been off-limits to mining for two years, but that restriction expired Sept. 24.

Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement saying, “I support Secretary Zinke’s action to cancel this withdrawal and terminate the environmental analysis associated with it. Mining has not been identified as a widespread significant threat to the sage-grouse and I appreciate the Department of Interior recognizing the overreach of this action, which had such significant economic impact on our state mining and exploration industries.”

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt said of the BLM’s decision, “I am gratified that the BLM has accepted our basic argument, which is that we can balance conservation of the sage grouse without injuring the economic lifeblood of Nevada’s local communities. In our suit, we consistently urged that the BLM failed to properly take into account Governor Sandoval’s well-supported and convincing comments about the many shortcomings of the 2015 plan.”

On March 31 in a suit brought by the state of Nevada, nine counties, several mining companies and a ranch, Nevada federal Judge Miranda Du ruled Interior land agencies erred in preparing environmental impact statements for 2.8 million acres of land primarily in Eureka and Humboldt counties and must prepare a supplemental statement.

BLM’s Nedd said of the decision to rework the environmental impact statement, “The BLM is committed to being a good neighbor and cooperating with its partners at all levels of government, including states, as well as tribal leaders, industry and conservation groups, ranchers, and other stakeholders throughout the amendment process. During this process, we are particularly interested in hearing from the many governors whose states put hard work and time into collaborative efforts to develop the existing plans. We welcome their input.”

Sandoval has complained in the past about Nevada’s input on sage grouse protection being ignored.

Nevada Mining Association President Dana Bennett was quoted as saying of the BLM change of direction, “A wholesale land withdrawal that encompassed 20 times more land than all mining activity combined did little to address the risk of fire and invasive species that threaten the species and its habitat.”

Of course the usual environmentalist reaction was one of doom and gloom. “This move shows Zinke’s total contempt for imperiled species and the places they need to live,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Zinke might as well form a shotgun posse to kill off these animals directly. The Trump administration is perfectly willing to wipe out sage grouse, and a host of other species, to reward its industry friends.”

Interior’s own draft environmental impact statement estimated its grouse restrictions in Nevada alone would reduce employment by 739 jobs every year for the next 20 years.

Jobs and wildlife can coexist when just a little common sense is applied.

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.