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AROUND THE STATE

Troy Wildes
Nevada News Service
Efforts involving ranchers, conservationists and government agencies continue in Nevada and other Western states to improve enough habitat to avoid having the sage-grouse listed as a threatened or endangered species.
National Park Service |

Nevada rancher: Need to save sage grouse

AUSTIN — Private landowners and conservationists in Nevada and several other Western states continue to work together to prevent the sage grouse from being listed as an endangered species.

Duane Coombs, manager of the 250,000-acre Smith Creek Ranch near Austin, Nevada, is among those working to improve sage grouse habitat on the public and private lands he ranches.

“My rangelands are healthier, my cattle are healthier, sage grouse are healthier,” Coombs said. “When we make our rangelands better and our soils better, and focus on that, then everything else is happier.”

Coombs said he’s been working in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies for over a decade on brush thinning, grazing management and other practices to improve habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to issue a decision on whether to list sage grouse as an endangered or threatened species later this year.

Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller has been working for years with private landowners to protect greater sage grouse habitat. He said ranchers realize it also helps their business.

“Over the last four or five years, you have thousands of ranchers across 11 western states willingly making investments, in all cases out of their own pockets, that will help their management of their rangelands and pastures,” said Weller. “But also have positive impacts for sage grouse and more than 350 other species.”

Weller is among those attending the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference this week in Omaha, where sage grouse protections are being discussed.

Midterm elections set cost record

LAS VEGAS -— In Nevada and around the nation, the corrupting influence of money in politics is getting worse, according to reports by Clean Slate Now and the Center for Responsive Politics.

The reports show last year’s midterm election was the most expensive in history. Outside spending on U.S. Senate elections has more than doubled since 2010, and campaign contributions from political action committees rose by 34 percent for U.S. House candidates in 2014.

Despite the numbers, Mark Mehringer of Clean Slate Now sees a bright side in the growing movement for clean elections. He said an increasing number of candidates are choosing not to take PAC money.

“It’s essentially a way of taking a principled stand and making it clear to voters you care about not being bought, and you’re going to do something,” said Mehringer. “You’re not going to come out with this line once again that everybody else does of, ‘Well they can contribute to my campaign but they’re not buying my vote.’ Nobody believes that line.”

Representatives from The League of Women Voters, which has more than 150,000 members nationwide, recently testified before the Federal Elections Commission to compel the agency to set new rules requiring full disclosure to help stem the tide of money flowing into elections in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Mehringer said disclosure is a key component for clean elections, and that making it possible for average citizens to play a bigger role in campaign finance could be a game-changer. Clean Slate Now recently endorsed the Government by the People Act, which would provide federal matching funds for candidates who refuse PAC money.

“Instead of congressional candidates relying on special interest groups for their funding, the matching funds from the Government by the People Act will ensure that individual contributions matter as much, or more, than those special interest group contributions,” he said.

Another nonpartisan group, Represent Us, is also working to introduce similar anti-corruption legislation in states, cities and towns across the nation.

Protected public lands create retirement rush

GREAT BASIN NATIONAL PARK — Older Americans are three times more likely to retire in areas of Nevada and other Western states that have protected public lands, in what’s being called the “Golden Rush.” The trend is benefiting communities near the Great Basin National Park and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, said a new report from the Center for Western Priorities.

Chris Mehl, policy director with the nonprofit Headwaters Economics, helped write the report and said retirees are a boon to local economies.

“In Nevada, seniors moving into the state are creating an enormous number of jobs,” said Mehl. “They’re bringing in disposable income through their lifelong savings, through Social Security, through their veterans’ benefits and they’re using that to spend on health care so they’re hiring doctors, nurses, and buying a new car.”

The report found about 118,000 retirees moved into Nevada in the first decade of this century, which created more than 65,000 jobs. It also found that more than a half-million people retired to 11 Western states in the same time period, creating about 300,000 jobs.

Mehl said public lands can offer seniors an outdoor lifestyle in a more quiet rural setting, following what may have been a hectic career in a big city.

“Those protected lands give certainty to seniors,” he said. “They move there, they know the lands will be there for them to recreate on for as long as they’re there.”

As an estimated 10,000 Americans retire each day, Mehl said he expects the retiree population in Western states will continue to grow.

Labor group warns TPP could cost jobs

LAS VEGAS – After five years of negotiations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is getting closer to being presented to Congress – and labor, manufacturing and government watchdog groups maintain the results could be disastrous.

The TPP is a massive international trade agreement between the United States and 11 other nations. Rachel Rekowski with the Nevada State AFL-CIO said one the major concerns about the deal is that the negotiations have been secret, and the president wants to fast-track the deal.

“That’s a huge concern, because we don’t think that trade policies that have potential to have a huge economic impact on our country should take place behind closed doors,” she said.

If fast-track authority is approved, Congress would have to vote on the 1,200 page bill with limited debate, and without the ability to make amendments.

Supporters argue the fast-track process gives the president leeway in negotiations. But because the agreement covers trade deals that represent about 40 percent of the global economy, Rekowski said more transparency is critical. She adds that groups representing immigrants’ rights, the environment, labor, and other concerns all oppose TPP.

“The opposition to TPP has brought a broad coalition of people together,” said Rekowski. “Not only people who are usually allies, but people who aren’t always allies with us.”

Supporters say the agreement will be a boon to international trade, but opponents counter it will undercut local jobs and manufacturing.