Keep public land public
This editorial originally appeared in the Friday, Feb. 26 edition of The Record-Courier:
The last time someone bought land from the federal government in Douglas County was when Big George Ventures’ Raymond Sidney spent $16.1 million for 100 acres on the north county line.
The $161,000 an acre price tag was nearly double the $84,000 an acre a second 100-acre parcel sold for the same day. No wonder people looking at public lands have dollar signs in their eyes. But that was in 2005, on property already pretty much surrounded by development.
There are 10,000 acres up for disposal in the Pine Nuts no one has shown any interest in buying over the last quarter century.
Most Nevada land isn’t worth $1,000 an acre in any real sense. That’s an arbitrary price tag for property far from any road or utility. That land’s value to ranchers is they can graze cattle on it without having to pay thousands of dollars. Its value for miners is they can poke around on it looking for mineral wealth without investing every nickel on property that may or may not have what they’re looking for. The ski resorts that contribute so much to our economy don’t actually own the property they’re on; they lease it from the federal government. These industry’s profits are based in part on the fact they don’t have to own the land they use.
There are 245 million acres of BLM land patrolled by 200 rangers and 70 special agents according to the federal government. Most of the land management done by the Bureau of Land Management is literally putting out fires. In Nevada, 48 million acres are controlled by the BLM, while another 5.9 million acres are held by the National Forest Service. That land is public and belongs to the citizens of the United States, but they are, for the most part, absentee owners. Transferring that land to the state will just swap absentee owners represented by an outfit in Washington D.C. to owners represented by an outfit controlled in Las Vegas.
For more than a century, there was a way for people to transfer public land into private hands for the price of living and working on it. Most of old Johnson Lane was settled by homesteaders and then divided through the parcel map process. Between 1862 and 1934, 270 million acres were transfered into private hands.
The question then is what would be the consequence of selling off federal land, particularly in the West?
Selling it off, assuming anyone wanted it, would result in closing it off to the variety of uses now allowed.
There may come a point where things are so desperate that selling our public lands seems like a good idea. We don’t think we’re quite there yet.