Guy W. Farmer: Preventing federal land grabs
December 16, 2017
Correction: This story has been updated from its original version to correct the fact that the national monuments were in Utah.
Have you ever asked the following question: Why does the federal government own and/or control more than 85 percent of Nevada's total land area? I've asked that question many times and have yet to receive a satisfactory answer, especially since the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution decrees that "powers not delegated to the United States (federal government) … are reserved to the States."
So where does the Constitution say the Feds have the right to manage such a huge swath of state lands? My knowledgeable friend Bob Stewart, who was a spokesman for the powerful U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), tells me Nevada's founding fathers — several of them Virginia City silver barons — inexplicably delivered vast state land tracts to the Feds during the 1864 statehood process. Of course I accept his explanation, but think we're way overdue for a 21st century reevaluation of federal and state land policies, as the Trump administration is doing.
Why should we sit here and blandly accept Nevada land decisions made by unelected bureaucrats sitting 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C.? I don't think we should and that's why I was pleased earlier this month when President Trump and his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, decided to downsize two national monuments in Utah, where the Feds own or manage 65 percent of that state's land area. Environmental extremists immediately went into cardiac arrest, as they always do when anyone suggests federal land management powers be returned to the states.
As USA Today reported, "Trump portrayed the (Utah) move as a victory for states' rights and local control, but conservation groups called it the beginning of open season on federal lands." Trump said he acted in compliance with the federal Antiquities Act, which requires presidents to limit national monument designations to "the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected."
"These abuses of the Antiquities Act give enormous power to faraway bureaucrats at the expense of the people who actually live here (in Arizona)," Trump said as he signed the downsizing executive orders. Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto, a Las Vegas Democrat, asserted Trump's decision "threatens over a century of environmental protections guaranteed by the Antiquities Act."
Recommended Stories For You
Ex-President Obama created the sprawling Bears Ears and Grand Staircase/Escalante national monuments in Utah with the stroke of a pen, and Trump downsized them with a stroke of his pen. As USA Today noted, "President Obama was particularly active in designating monuments," and Trump will be equally active in downsizing them in accordance with his campaign promises.
Zinke has also recommended scaling back the Gold Butte National Monument in Southern Nevada, a move that drew praise from Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a Carson City Republican.
Zinke said he was focusing on the need to protect local governments' access to water from the Gold Butte site by removing the Spring Valley Water District from within monument boundaries. "The Interior Department's decision is welcome news for Nevada as it allows the Valley Water District to access water rights that were lost under the previous (Obama) administration," Heller said. Attaboy, Dean!
Meanwhile, Carson City's popular Republican Congressman, Mark Amodei, is sponsoring a series of federal land transfers to Nevada's 17 counties. Attaboy, Mark!
In a Reno op-ed piece published on Wednesday, highly respected conservationists Ty Cobb and Stan Paher objected to "the grandiose size of Nevada's two new monuments, Basin and Range, and Gold Butte." "We advocate for responsible and reasonable designations for protection," they wrote, "not for oversized 'monuments' whose boundaries extend well beyond valuable (antiquities) sites."
Guy W. Farmer loves the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.