RENO -- Sen. John Ensign's push to target more southern Nevada land for public acquisition under a 1998 federal law could jeopardize plans to buy sensitive land in the north, conservationists said.
Ensign has asked the Interior Department to delay release of the latest properties identified for acquisition under the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act so more Clark County properties can be added to the list.
Ensign said the law was intended to give priority to protecting land in southern Nevada and Lake Tahoe, and the latest list of proposed land acquisitions places too much emphasis elsewhere in the north.
"When I first saw the list, I was very upset," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
He said the McCarran Ranch on the Truckee River east of Reno and the Ballardini Ranch west of Reno should remain on the 2002 list.
But other lands targeted in the north, including the 17,500-acre Home Camp ranch near the Black Rock Desert and 472 acres for public access to Hunter Creek Canyon near Reno, probably would be removed to make way for southern Nevada land, Ensign said.
Officials and conservationists said Ensign's move could endanger important acquisition plans in the north.
"There's no doubt it sets us back. It's something we've all been working towards," said Karen Mullen, Washoe County parks and recreation director.
"What he's done is send us back to the drawing board statewide," added Sierra Club member Tina Nappe of Reno.
In all, 25,000 acres in northern Nevada were proposed for acquisition in a preliminary list for 2002.
About $54 million raised by the sale of public land near Las Vegas is proposed to preserve sensitive land statewide under the land act's third round.
Ensign suggested Washoe County might want to pursue land acquisitions under a separate arrangement similar to the 1998 law.
But others insist the existing act should be able to serve land preservation needs statewide. They said the intent of the act, to give preference to southern Nevada, has been met.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, 72 percent of the $196 million available through the act's first three rounds would be spent in southern Nevada, with the rest of Nevada getting 28 percent.
About $23 million was approved for land purchases in the north during the first two rounds of the act, with $31 million proposed in the latest list now targeted by Ensign.
That compares with a total of $141.6 million earmarked for southern Nevada for land acquisitions, capital improvements and parks, trails and natural areas.
"Most of the money is still spent in Clark County so I don't think this issue is as big as it first appears," said Douglas County Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen, state director of the American Land Conservancy.
More than 4,000 acres of Douglas County ranchland is proposed for preservation through conservation easements under the act's third round.