County resident praised the efforts of the Churchill County Commission at their monthly meeting on Wednesday for listening to their concerns regarding the Bureau of Land Management’s Resource Management Plan (RMP), but they also asked that the comment period be extended for more residents to have the opportunity to voice additional comments to the agency.
County Manager Eleanor Lockwood asked Terry Knudson, Stillwater Field Office manager for the BLM’s Carson City District, how the extension period could be extended to allow for more input. A recently conducted workshop allowed only a fraction of the people attending the meeting to speak about the RMP.
“What are the chances of an extension and further comments and an open forum?” Lockwood asked.
Knudson said the county needs to request an extension to the Carson City District Office manager, but she said a decision like that could be channeled to BLM in Washington, D.C.
Knudson also said the RMP’s draft copy should be ready in the fall, and an official decision offered sometime during the summer of 2016.
Commissioner Bus Scharmann was direct when he asked if Nevadans are being heard with their complaints against the mega-agency that manages lands in most western states.
At one point, Scharmann said he discussed similar concerns with Congressman Mark Amodei, R-Nev.
“There are inconsistencies between the districts. I told him we were pretty satisfied with the Carson district, but other areas are not happy with their districts,” Scharmann said.
The frustration with BLM is not going away anytime soon; in fact, concerns and frustrations are only growing.
Lockwood said people have sent emails, called her and visited her at her office to discuss many provisions being discussed or included into the new RMP.
Yet, Lockwood also noted the numerous inconsistencies between the RMP and the county’s master plan.
“The county has asked BLM — or I stated to BLM — comments are primarily focusing on Alternative E,” Lockwood said, noting that the county is not taking a strong stand on any of the five alternatives. “But the BLM needs to apply comments to all the alternatives.”
Lockwood said comments regarding the wilderness areas are inconsistent from the county’s master plan and that the government has extensively tied up land for its studies.
Additionally, she said restrictions have been placed on too many activities ranging from mining to recreation and sportsman endeavors.
Rupert Wyble told the commission that he was “a little encouraged” with what he had heard prior to offering his own comments. Wyble said he would like the comment period extended so that more people in Churchill County can comment on the RMP.
“I’m finding two out of three people don’t even know what’s going on,” he said.
Although the commissioners have advertised the meetings, and newspaper articles have reported on the outcome, he said the word is not reaching everyone.
“Basically, we are becoming the least knowledgeable with history,” he said. “It’s hard to understand, but it’s happening.”
In asking for a 60-90 day extension, Wyble said he has a group of volunteers who will canvas the county telling people about the RMP and what it means to them.
“Everyone should have a chance to understand what’s happening,” he added.
Bob Clifford and Floyd Rathbun, vocal critics of the BLM’s management plan for lands and their uses, each spoke about allowing more time for comments.
Clifford assailed the draft’s quality, also noting inconsistencies and errors. He said there must be another evaluation and review of a cleaned-up draft.
“Let’s go back and review and then extend the deadline,” Clifford said.
Rathbun, a range consultant with many years of experience, commended the commissioners and Lockwood for the approach the county is taking toward the BLM. He said the RMP is riddled with many errors and contradictions.
“This document is not ready except for a comprehensive editing job,” he said, to a few chuckles from the audience.
Rathbun said he had recently met Amodei and told the congressman that federal employees must be held accountable for issuing false statements in the report.
“You make an accidental error, that’s one thing,” he said. “But when something is misleading, they (federal employees) should be accountable.”
Rathbun also said he doesn’t feel the BLM understands the history of the sage grouse population in Churchill County and how it increased in the 1950s and 60s. He would also like to see the restoration of grazing practices.
Dave Hoffman gave commissioners an overview on mining claims established in the county and said California faced something similar generations ago.
Hoffman said active mining claims cover 220,000 acres in Churchill County, while inactive claims include more than a half billion mines.
“That’s 1.3 million acres,” Hoffman said referring to how much land is tied up with active and inactive mining claims.”
Hoffman, who has done extensive research on county mine claims, said the recorder’s office has mining claims on everyone.
“I don’t see any of this in the (BLM) plan,” Hoffman said about the mining claims included in the RMP.
Based on an 1872 federal law, Hoffman said the BLM cannot manage real property. He said the land belongs to the people on a mining claim, not to the BLM. Hoffman said the people of California researched the law and eventually pushed the agency off their lands.
“I think we are leading down the same path as California,” Hoffman said
Near the end of his comments, Hoffman told the commissioners they need to be the voice of the people.
“Draw the line in the sand and ask them to vacate. Laws of the land are on our side as proven in California. Any money to fight BLM would be well spent,” he said.
Scott Nelson said the commissioners should not accept anything the BLM proposes. He said the county should tell the agency what needs to be done. According to Nelson, the government has had 10 years to develop information to “hammer the counties with,” but local officials and resident have only a month to gather information for their response.
“A lot of documents have been brought up toddy,” he said. “We need to tell them we need more time to notify the people and take the time to go through the plan.”
Other residents told the commissioners they remember how much smaller the BLM was and how their employees were there to assist, not to dictate.
Longtime resident Vic Williams echoed the previous comments.
“When BLM was founded in 1946, it was a small agency that helped farmers and ranchers and managed the land,” Williams recollected. “Why is BLM so large? Why are they taking over our lands?”
County resident Roger Lambert said the people of Churchill County are good stewards of the land and that the BLM doesn’t need it.
Lambert, though, said he doesn’t mind the military using Nevada’s lands because “they need it.”
Rancher Joe Dahl questioned why anyone would be opposed having their lands returned to them. He said various state and local groups — including a hunters’ group in Churchill County — are hesitant to turn the lands back to the states because of a fear of the unknown.