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Natural Resources & Public Lands: How they Affect Nevada

Nearly eighty-seven percent of Nevada’s land is federally owned.  That is the highest percentage of any state in the lower 48.  This reality provides both unique challenges and unique opportunities for Nevada’s counties.  Nevada’s counties must work with federal land managers to provide many of the services and infrastructure that residents depend on while also providing services on public lands to public lands users.  Whether through recreation, agriculture, mining or tourism, county economies are deeply connected to the health and vitality of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Military. Often, the scale and scope natural resource and public land management requires solutions that harness the knowledge, ingenuity, and energy of local governments by emphasizing cooperation and collaboration with state, federal, local and tribal stakeholders.

NACO works to keep its members apprised of, and involved in, land management and policy decisions made by federal agencies and on the district, state and federal level. Counties provide road maintenance, emergency response, law enforcement and other mandated services on public lands. Counties also manage assets that require federal permits, leases, or easements. For all these reasons, meaningful engagement with counties is crucial. NACO provides counties a collective voice in public land and natural resource management, ranging from conservation and rangeland health, regulatory advocacy, wildfire prevention and mitigation, military withdrawals, and ensuring full funding of PILT.

Collective County Priorities

Wildfire:  Nevada is the driest state in the nation.  Nevada’s counties bear immediate and long-lasting socioeconomic impacts from wildfires in the Great Basin.  For instance, county resources are often the first response when wildfires break out.  Aside from the obvious threat to health and safety, wildfires result in major negative economic impacts including the cost of first-line response, repairs to county infrastructure, and secondary impact to county economies from damage to resources. For that reason, NACO supports practical, science-based approaches to mitigated wildfire risk and restoring rangeland.  For instance, we support the use of targeted grazing, use of non-native, non-invasive vegetation, and other appropriate management tools that aim to restore range resilience and resistance to fire.  NACO represents Nevada’s counties as a member of the Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities Multi-agency Coordinating Group (NNFAC).

Nevada Economic Assessment Project (NEAP):  As a Contributing Member on NEAP , NACO is helping to guide University of Nevada’s Cooperative Extension as they work on compiling socioeconomic baseline data for Nevada’s seventeen counties. We have helped steer and inform methods and approaches to what data should be gathered to help form a fuller picture of the unique aspects of Nevada’s county economies, such as emphasizing the inclusion of the costs and benefits of outdoor recreation.  Having accurate and up-to-date socioeconomic baseline data is crucial for identifying the impacts of federal agency plans and actions on county economies and ways of life.

Greater Sage-grouse: NACO has been extensively involved in the conservation of Greater Sage-grouse in Nevada. NACO was a cooperating agency in the design of the 2015 Land Use Plans by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and the 2019 Amendments to those plans.  NACO was successful in a lawsuit against the BLM and USFS alleging the agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by prohibiting use of millions of acres across Nevada without allowing public participation.

NACO has been a cooperating agency in the BLM’s and USFS’s 2019 plans, emphasizing the use of the best available science, cooperation and coordination with local governments, consistency with county functions and land use plans, and ensuring the resiliency of rangeland ecosystems.

Bi-State Sage-grouse:  NACO supported the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to withdraw the Bi-State Sage-grouse from a potential listing in March 2020.  The success of the Bi-State population of Sage-grouse is the result of the efforts of the Local Area Working Group’s conservation of 100,000 acres since 2012, as well as the implementation of the Bi-State Action Plan (BSAP) which proved instrumental in the FWS’s decision. NACO intervened along with the state of Nevada on behalf of the FWS in a 2017 lawsuit to argue these collaborative conservation measures meant a listing was not required. NACO is pleased that FWS agrees and looks forward to continued efforts and cooperation between local, state, and federal partners.

Wild Horses and Burros:  In 2019 NACO endorsed “The Path Forward for Management of BLM’s Wild Horses and Burros.”  This proposal outlines an effective and financially sustainable four-tiered approach involving, 1) gathers and removals, 2) population growth suppression strategies, 3) public-private partnerships, and 4) adoptions. Implementation of this plan will create a sustainably managed population over the next 20 years and will address the impacts that current population levels have on Nevada’s rangelands and native species. The overpopulation of wild horses and burros in Nevada has reached a crisis point and has not only very serious ecological impacts, but also affects the health and safety of Nevada’s residents. The Path Forward represents an historic example of diverse stakeholders such as the ASPCA, the Humane Society, and the Public Lands Council coming together to create a transformative and viable solution to an issue that affects all of Nevada’s counties.

Regulatory Advocacy

Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The PILT program provides payments to counties to offset losses in tax revenues due to the presence of substantial federal land acreage within their jurisdictions. Because local governments are unable to collect property taxes on federal lands, Nevada’s rural counties are increasingly relying on PILT to balance their budgets and provide essential services, including those provided on public lands and to public lands users. NACO will always advocate for full and fair PILT payments to counties.

Boards and Committees: NACO ensures counties have a voice through our membership in public land and natural resource related boards and committees.  We work to help prepare communities for wildfire through our membership in NNFAC.  We help strengthen and keep county land use plans and policies updated through our membership on State Land Use Planning Advisory Council (SLUPAC).  We sit on the board of University of Nevada’s College of Agriculture Business and Natural Resources, and the cooperative extension program as a cooperating member on the NEAP project.  We facilitate access to federal funds for county transportation projects as a member of the Decision Committee for Nevada’s Federal Land Access Program (FLAP).

National Environmental Policy ACT (NEPA): NACO supported revisions to NEPA’s procedural regulations to allow for a more streamlined and efficient process.  We support the ability of agencies to use already-existing studies and analyses completed by states and localities, and the effort for greater inclusion of local input and scientific work conducted in Nevada and neighboring states by mandating coordination and including local government in the definition of “cooperating agency”.