Primer on Public Lands Transfer Process in Nevada

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With more than 80 percent of Nevada’s lands under the control and management of the Federal Government, land transactions often require congressional acts for approval. This process can be complex and time consuming involving lengthy discussions between Federal, state, local government, and private industry officials and individuals. Various special acts of Congress have been required and authorized over the years to dispose of Bureau of Land Management (BLM), United States Forest Service (USFS), and other federally owned land in Nevada. Members of Nevada’s congressional delegation in both houses of Congress introduce bills and work together to complete these land transaction processes. For example, over the past 30 years, five special acts have been passed by Congress to dispose of BLM lands in Nevada.  Those special acts have related to transactions in Mesquite, Southern Nevada as a whole, and Lincoln and White Pine counties.

To understand how public land transfers work in practice, it is helpful to take a look at a bill that is currently moving through Congress. During the 113th Congress, Nevada’s House delegation introduced H.R. 5202, which is called the Northern Nevada Land Conservation and Economic Development Act. The U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 5202 on September 15, 2014 and it has been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The bill consolidates seven separate land transactions in Nevada, totaling almost 100,000 acres. For each transaction, the bill prescribes the preferred or best use, management or appropriate designation of the land, or resolves long-standing issues within the affected federal lands. The transactions range from the small and specific, such as 275 acres for a public motocross park in Elko, to the larger and more general, such as more than 47,000 acres for a wilderness designation, or 10,200 acres for economic development in Yerington. The Yerington transaction alone has taken over 5 years for local government and private business and mining company partners to agree on a sustainable development plan for continued economic growth in Yerington after the finite supply of natural resources is depleted. Table 1 summarizes the range of transactions, acreages and purposes.

Table 1.  Components of H.R. 5205

Name/Original Bill City/County Acres Purpose/Source
Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act (H.R. 433, S.342) Humboldt 26,000 Designate Blue Lake and Alder Creek Study Areas as wilderness (BLM)
Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act (H.R. 696, S. 159) Yerington / Lyon a) 10,200  b) 47,449 a) Fair market sale to Yerington for recreation, economic development and open space purposes (BLM)b) Designation of Wovoka Wilderness (USFS)
Carlin Economic Self-Determination Act (H.R. 1168) Carlin / Elko 1,329 Convey to Carlin without consideration and subject to existing rights, for economic growth.  Lands surround City. (BLM)
Fernley Economic Self-Determination Act (H.R. 1170, S. 1983) Fernley / Lyon 9,407 Convey to Fernley, without consideration, within City at fair market value for economic development, public use and open space. (BLM, plus 804 acres from Bureau of Reclamation)
Restoring Storey County Act (H.R. 1167) Storey 1,745 Resolve long-standing title disputes with individuals. (BLM)
Elko Motocross and Tribal Conveyance Act (H.R. 2455) Elko / Elko a) 275  b) 373 a) Convey to county for public motocross park (BLM)b) Held in trust for Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians (BLM)
Naval Air Station (NAS) Fallon Housing and Safety Development Act (H.R. 1169) Churchill 400 Transfer to Navy for housing and continued use by NAS Fallon (BLM)
Total Acreage 97,178

Source: House Report 113-593, Committee Reports, 113th Congress (2013-2014), H.R. 5205.

The congressional transfer of lands to the State of Nevada likely will continue as an issue in the next legislative session. Assembly Bill 227 of the 2013 Nevada Legislature established the Nevada Land Management Task Force and required it to produce a one-time study on the transfer of public lands from the Federal Government to the State. That report was presented to the Nevada Legislature’s Committee on Public Lands at its meeting on August 1, 2014. The study included an economic analysis of the costs and revenue to be derived from the transfer of public lands to the State, a proposed administration and management plan, and an identification of potential lands for transfer. It concluded that Nevada likely would be able to generate significant revenues from management of an expanded state land base, ranging from $56 to almost $206 million on an initial transfer of an estimated 7.3 million acres. The Guinn Center for Policy Priorities will continue to monitor implementation of this study and its implications for the State and its funding alternatives.