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Valuing Our Western Public Lands Report

Western Public Lands


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A significant portion of the land area of Nevada – over 80% – is public land. These public lands include national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, wilderness areas and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Nevada’s public lands feature a diverse range of landscapes, including great deserts where mountain ranges stand like mirages on the horizon, deserted mining towns where riches were made and lost, lush oases that stand in sharp contrast to barren lands, isolated ranches the size of small countries, and trees that were old when Rome was an empire.

Nevada’s public lands support a wide variety of activities, from recreational pursuits such as camping, hunting, fishing, and hiking to natural resource development. They also provide clean air, clean water and picturesque scenery, resources enjoyed by all Nevadans and visitors who flock to Nevada from around the world. Nevada’s public lands also provide habitat for hundreds of wildlife species, from popular game species like deer and pronghorn antelope, to the Gray wolf and Mexican tortoise.

Assessing the Economic Value of Public Lands

Public lands have a substantial impact on the Nevada economy. These lands support a booming tourism and outdoor industry. People travel to Nevada from around the world to see and explore its natural marvels, such as Pyramid Lake and the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, and to camp, hunt and fish on thousands of acres of pristine wildlife habitat. In addition, the natural amenities offered by Nevada’s public lands attract new businesses and a skilled workforce, which boost economic growth in communities located near public lands.

Nevada’s Public Lands Support a Booming Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Industry

Outdoor recreation and tourism are a vital part of the Nevada economy. The Nevada Office of Tourism reports that the total overall travel spending in the state was $56.5 billion in 2011. The travel industry supports 447,000 jobs and generates $2.7 billion in local and state tax revenues. While it must be acknowledged that a significant proportion of visitors come to Nevada to visit the casinos and bright lights, many also come to experience its natural beauty and resources. The Outdoor Industry Association has found that active outdoor recreation supports 20,000 jobs across Nevada, generates $116 million in annual state tax revenue and produces $1.8 billion annually in retail sales and services across Nevada.

Nevada’s Public Lands Provide Opportunities to Hunt, Fish and Watch Wildlife

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that each year over 734,000 people participate in wildlife-related recreation in Nevada - 147,000 fish, 43,000 hunt and 643,000 participate in wildlife-watching activities. The Montana economy benefits from $1.2 billion in annual spending on wildlife-related recreation.

Nevada’s Public Lands Influence the Economic Structure of Nearby Communities

Like other western states with a large percentage of public lands, Nevada is outpacing the nation in economic growth. The competitive advantage offered by its public lands attracts talent, investment, and businesses to Nevada, contributing to its high rate of employment and income growth.[1] Among Nevada entrepreneurs, 42% choose to do business in the state because of opportunities tied to public lands.[2]

Nevada vs. Non-Western U.S., Percent Change, 2000-2011. Source: Headwaters Economics. West Is Best: Protected Lands Promote Nevada Jobs and Higher Incomes. November 2012. http://headwaterseconomics.org/land/west-is-best-value-of-public-lands-nv/


Nevadans Value Public Lands

Several recent studies and surveys show overwhelming public support for national parks and monuments, refuges and open range, sagebrush steppe, and rugged canyon landscapes encompassed by public lands. Polls of voters in the Rocky Mountain West show that people recognize the benefits of public lands – from the money and jobs generated by tourism, hunting, fishing, and other recreation to the high quality of life that comes with living in scenic areas with clean air and easy access to vacation spots. Businesses surveyed recognize that proximity to open spaces, wildlife, and public parks gives them an advantage in attracting highly qualified employees looking for a desirable place to live and work. Westerners also strongly identify with that most American of ideas – that public lands provide each of us a place where we are free to hike, cast a line, watch eagles soar, or track an elk through snowy woods.

Nevadans Recognize That Public Lands Support the Economy

Among Nevada small business owners, 38% agree that Nevada’s national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife habitats are essential parts of the state’s outdoor culture and quality of life and great reasons to run a business there.

Nevadans Support Protections for Land, Water, Air and Wildlife

Three-fourths of Nevada small business owners support designating additional public lands as national monuments. Doing so would ensure natural areas and water in these regions would enjoy protections similar to those of the Great Basin National Monument in Nevada.

Elected Officials Are Out of Touch

Far too many of Nevada’s public lands are under attack by Congress and the state legislature. For example, throughout the 112th and 113th Congresses, elected lawmakers introduced dozens of bills that sought to roll back protections for public lands. In addition, Nevada is one of seven western states that have passed, introduced, or explored legislation in the past year demanding that the federal government turn over millions of acres of federal public lands to the state. If the sponsors of these proposals succeed in their aims, these lands will be used in whatever way the new owner – state or private – wants to use them. This generally means maximizing private profits through resource extraction rather than managing for the long-term benefit and use of the public. To learn more about why these proposals are problematic, read the full report, Valuing Our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life.

Attempts to Transfer Public Land Out of Public Ownership

Two Nevada Assemblymen are drafting a bill for the 2013 legislative session that would create a committee to conduct a study anticipating the effects that a land transfer would have on the state “in contemplation of Congress turning over the management and control of those public lands to the State of Nevada on or before June 30, 2015.

Several bills proposed in the U.S. Congress would force the sale of public lands in Nevada:

  • American Land Act (H.R. 1017, 113th Congress), by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). This bill would force the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to sell 8 percent of their respective federal land to the highest bidder, annually until 2017. This year alone, the two agencies would be forced to sell off nearly 36 million acres of forest and public land to corporate interests.
  • Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Acta.k.a. “Land Division Act” (H.R. 2852, 112th Congress), by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT). This bill would force the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to give away, free of charge, 5 percent of their lands to each Western state. This would leave 30 million acres in the West vulnerable to more resource extraction and development.
  • Disposal of Federal Lands Act (H.R. 1126, 112th Congress), by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). This bill would force the Bureau of Land Management in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming to sell off “excess” public lands to the highest bidder. This bill was also incorporated into the House budget bill in the 113th Congress.

Attempts to Weaken Protection of Public Lands

For decades, cornerstone conservation laws like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) have protected public lands and natural resources. Recently, many members of Congress have been working to dismantle these vital protections and open public lands to increased resource exploitation and development. For example, in the first session of the 112th Congress, House Republicans voted 191 times to weaken environmental protections, halt wilderness designations, and remove protections for wildlife. For a list of some of the legislation that poses significant risks to our public lands, read the full report, Valuing Our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life.

Why the Disconnect?

Why is there an ideological gap between the actions of our elected officials and the values of their constituents? Clearly the power and influence of industry lobbying and campaign contributions plays a role. But the Colorado College State of the Rockies poll offers an additional explanation: the majority of voters in western states are not aware of their representatives’ view on public lands issues.

Get Involved

It’s up to individual citizens to hold elected officials and decision makers accountable to the values that define Nevada’s public lands heritage. The most important thing you can do is let decision makers know that you are paying attention. To have your voice heard and demonstrate your commitment to preserving our public lands:

1.      Inspire your children and grandchildren to become the next generation of conservation leaders by taking them outside to hike, fish, hunt, and watch wildlife.Visit OPL’s Nevada's Resources page for information about visiting Nevada’s public lands.

2.      Join local, regional, and national groups like the National Wildlife Federation that fight for your priorities. Visit OPL’s Nevada's Resources page for a list of wildlife and conservation groups that work in Nevada.

3.      Take advantage of opportunities for citizen involvement in decisions affecting our public lands: public meetings and hearings with decision makers, public comments periods, town hall meetings, and other forms of citizen engagement.

4.      Reach out directly to your elected officials through letters, phone calls, or social media platforms. Tell them you value our public lands. Your representatives are duty-bound to listen.

Contact Elected Officials About Public Lands Issues

Click here for Resources about Nevada's Public Lands and Wildlife


Center for American Progress, Goad, J. and Kenworthy, T., State Efforts to ‘Reclaim’ Our Public Lands http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/GoadLandsReclaimBrief-1.pdf

Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, Conservation in the West Poll http://www.coloradocollege.edu/other/stateoftherockies/conservationinthewest/

Headwaters Economics, West Is Best: Protected Lands Promote Nevada Jobs and Higher Incomes http://headwaterseconomics.org/land/west-is-best-value-of-public-lands-nv/

Nevada Commission on Tourism http://travelnevada.com/industry/visitor-statistics/

Outdoor Industry Association, The Outdoor Recreation Economy, Nevada http://www.outdoorindustry.org/images/ore_reports/NV-nevada-outdoorrecreationeconomy-oia.pdf

Small Business Majority, Nevada Small Business Owners Support ‘All-of-the-Above’ Energy Policy that Protects Public Lands http://www.smallbusinessmajority.org/small-business-research/public-lands/071112_nevada_public_lands_poll.php

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, Nevada http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/fhw11-nv.pdf

U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce Minority Staff, The Anti-Environment Record of the U.S. House of Representatives 112th Congress, 1stSession http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/image_uploads/_Anti-Environment%20Report%20Final.pdf

[1]Headwaters Economics. West Is Best: Protected Lands Promote Nevada Jobs and Higher Incomes. November 2012. http://headwaterseconomics.org/land/west-is-best-value-of-public-lands-nv/

[2]Small Business Majority. Nevada Small Business Owners Support ‘All-of-the-Above’ Energy Policy that Protects Public Lands. July 11, 2012. http://www.smallbusinessmajority.org/small-business-research/public-lands/071112_nevada_public_lands_poll.php