More than 2,500 people have signed petitions opposing a potential land swap between Carson Valley businessman Don Bently and the Bureau of Land Management.
The residents, part of an informal group organized under the slogan "Stop the Swap," are concerned about Bently's overture to the BLM to exchange 32,000 acres of public land for 17,400 acres Bently holds.
The residents are most concerned about Bently's interest in acquiring 25,000 acres along the east side of Carson Valley, along the foothills of the Pine Nut Mountains. The other affected land is in Carson City and Churchill County and in Mono and Alpine counties in California.
"Your freedom to roam the Pine Nuts is at stake," said John Dicks, one of the Stop the Swap organizers, to supportive shouts and applause. "It's going to grow houses eventually if it gets in the wrong hands. That's not what we want for the future of Douglas County."
Residents are worried they could lose access to the Pine Nuts, and Dicks cited a no-trespassing sign on one of Bently's current holdings as proof.
"I could see that sign about every 50 feet from the Lahontan fish hatchery all the way to Carson City if this isn't stopped," he said.
The group has been circulating petitions for two weeks and plans to submit the signatures to the Douglas County Commission in November. Fish Springs resident Jim Evans said the group hopes the petitions will lead to a formal pledge by Douglas County to oppose the swap.
County Commissioners Jacques Etchegoyhen, Bernie Curtis and Kelly Kite attended a rally last week and spent most of the time trying to quell rumors they might support a swap.
"We're not driving the bus on this issue. The BLM is driving the bus," said Curtis. "I am absolutely opposed to this."
Dicks said Stop the Swap proponents are considering establishing a non-profit group to be called the Pine Nut Protection League to monitor the possible swap. He also said several committees are in place and the group is considering adopting different parts of the mountain range for clean up.
He urged vigilance.
"This is not the last assault on the Pine Nuts," he said. "It may be just the first."
The Douglas County commission has already had one hearing on the possible swap. The meeting drew an overflow crowd, as well as representatives of the Bureau of Land Management.
At that meeting, John Singlaub manager for the Carson City BLM district, emphasized no formal agreements on a land swap have been made and said the process would include public hearings. He also said the agency probably wouldn't support a land swap if the involved counties were opposed.
For information on Stop the Swap and its associated groups, call John Dicks at 267-0208.