RENO - Interior Secretary Gale Norton has approved $16.5 million in funding to purchase more than 23,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land in Northern Nevada.
The bulk of the money - about $11 million - will go toward the public buyout of 18,637 acres near the Black Rock Desert, 100 miles north of Reno.
Norton also approved $1.7 million for nearly 2 acres in Tahoe Meadows above Incline Village and $3.8 million for 5,000 acres in Clearwater Canyon straddling the Humboldt-Pershing county line.
The Black Rock Desert-area acreage features private parcels surrounded by large swaths of federal land in the Granite Range, Buffalo Hills and Wall Canyon.
The Jaksick family of Reno had planned to sell. Conservationists feared the land could be subdivided and sold for homes.
But the land now will be preserved for wildlife, said Harry Parsons, chairman of the Nevada Land Conservancy, which organized the push to put it in public hands.
"I think it's probably one of the largest concentrations of diverse wildlife we have in Washoe County, possibly the state," he told a Reno newspaper. "The country is spectacular. For once in my life, I'm speechless."
In all, Norton approved $490 million in funding for various conservation projects in Nevada.
All but the three Northern Nevada land purchases and $37 million targeted for Lake Tahoe will be spent in Clark County.
The money comes from a $707 million auction of 2,532 acres of federal land near Henderson in June.
The federal Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act authorizes the use of revenues from public land sales in the Las Vegas area to acquire environmentally sensitive land.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., the act's author, has complained that too much money from past auctions wound up in Northern Nevada.
But he said he's pleased that 89 percent of the money is staying in Clark County this time.