February 07, 2018

Cortez Masto Testifies in Support of Critical Nevada Lands Bills

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) testified today before the  Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining Legislative Hearing in support of two lands bills critical to Nevada. These two bills, the Pershing County Economic Development and Conservation Act and the Eastern Nevada Economic Development and Land Management Improvement Act for the State of Nevada, were introduced by both Senators Cortez Masto and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and are supported by every member of Nevada’s Congressional delegation. Senator Cortez Masto is a Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, under which the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining rests.

“Time and again, Nevadans have come together to find innovative ways to work with Federal partners to facilitate community growth, economic expansion, public work maintenance, and conservation protections” said Senator Cortez Masto. “I look forward to working with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to move these bills forward.”

BACKGROUND:

S. 414: The Pershing County Economic Development and Conservation Act:

This bill reflects years of work by Pershing County and various stakeholders to develop a proposal that incorporates the feedback of all stakeholders in the State of Nevada and that prioritizes:

  1. Providing Pershing County control of which lands might be sold by the BLM.
  2. Authorizing fair market sale of certain federal lands currently held under mining claims to mining companies.
  3. Resolving the interim status of wilderness study areas by determining what lands will be designated as wilderness and what acres of wilderness study areas will be released for uses other than wilderness.

The legislation establishes the “Checkerboard Lands Resolution Area” and set up a process, similar to the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (SNPLMA) in southern Nevada, in which land within the checkerboard area can be sold or exchanged. The county would be able to nominate parcels, among the land already identified for sale or exchange by the BLM’s 2015 Winnemucca Resource Management Plan - although a limitation of 150,000 acres can be put forth for sale.

This bill would designate 136,072 acres of wilderness and release 48,600 acres of wilderness study areas.

The new wilderness areas would be:

  • Mt. Limbo: 11,855 acres
  • North Sahwave: 13,875 acres
  • Bluewing: 24,900 acres
  • Selenite Peak: 22,822 acres
  • Fencemaker: 14,942 acres
  • Grandfathers’: 35,339 acres
  • Cain Mountain: 12,339 acres

This wilderness proposal has the support of Pershing County and Friends of Nevada Wilderness.

S.1046: The Eastern Nevada Economic Development and Land Management Implementation Act:

Senator Cortez Masto’s legislation provides technical corrections and fixes to better implement the previously enacted Lincoln County and White Pine County lands bills, the Lincoln County Land Act of 2000 (LCLA) and Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation and Development Act of 2004 (LCCRDA). These improvements will enable the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to better administer watersheds and wildlife habitat, as well as diversify and expand the economy of Lincoln County. It attempts to balance development and conservation needs within the relevant counties and will also allow BLM to more fully implement its Ely District Resource Area Management Plan, provide for protection and improvement of critical sage grouse habitat, allow for the reduction of hazardous fuels buildups, authorize rangeland and grassland restoration projects, and establish cooperative agreements between counties and the BLM regarding conservation planning and law enforcement actions to protect designated Wilderness Areas.

This bill is supported by the Friends of the Nevada Wilderness, Conservation Lands Foundation, The Wilderness Society, Lincoln County and White Pine County.

Senator Cortez Masto’s full remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:

Thank you, Subcommittee Chairman Lee and Senator Wyden for holding today’s hearing. I thank my colleagues on the Committee for ensuring that two bills critical to the people of Northern Nevada are included on today’s agenda:

S.414, the Pershing County Economic Development and Conservation Act. And S.1046, the Eastern Nevada Economic Development and Land Management Improvement Act.

As this committee well knows, the Great State of Nevada has a proud history of strong, bipartisan work on legislation pertaining to land management. I am so proud of the community-led advocacy and support we’ve earned from the people of Nevada. That has been reflected in the testimony of my colleague – who I thank for his bipartisan work – Senator Dean Heller, the Senior Senator from Nevada.

Together, we have continued the proud legacy he fostered with Senator Reid on developing bipartisan lands bills that prioritize local economic development, preserve lands for the benefit of future generations and heed the voices and needs of local communities.

I want to take a moment to discuss the two bills before our Committee today.

First, S.414, the Pershing County Economic Development and Conservation Act. This bipartisan bill aims to resolve a number of public lands issues in Pershing County, Nevada, while preserving and protecting seven new wilderness areas in some of the most remote and beautiful parts of Nevada.

This legislation creates over 136 thousand acres of wilderness within Pershing County – nearly 36 thousand more than the current Wilderness Study Area acreage, it also establishes a process for dealing with checkerboard land status and disposes of some mining lands. In Pershing County, 75 percent of the land is federally owned and this bill particularly reflects compromise among several interests.

Pershing County has struggled with the checkerboard federal-private land pattern – which impacts many of us in the West – that cuts through the county. The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, granting the Union Pacific railroad alternating sections of public land along several proposed railroad corridors worked to encourage construction of the transpacific railroad – nearly 200 years ago. Unfortunately, this legislation, meant to grow and build our economy centuries ago, is now holding back our communities in Nevada.

Much of the land ownership scheme created by the Pacific Railroad Act has created management inefficiencies for both federal and private land managers. What was then an innovative way to spark development has resulted in fractured ownership that stifles economic development and conservation efforts. 

My bill with Senator Heller will do three very important things: 

The bill aims to create more efficient land management. It creates a checkerboard resolution program that has a goal of prioritizing lands best suited for development along the Interstate 80 corridor, in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management, and allows both local communities and federal agencies to work together. This way they are able to identify areas within the checkerboard that are better suited for federal management—such as sage grouse habitat, recreation areas, wildlife preservation areas and other important public use purposes; and together consolidate public and private lands for exchange or restricted sale. In short, this allows real land management with local engagement.

S. 414 identifies lands for potential sale to entities that hold mineral rights or are actively mining on those lands. These mining areas would be regulated by the State of Nevada and reclaimed under Nevada State law, which is a nationwide model for mining regulation and reclamation. Under Federal law, after the mining project is over, mining companies are required to restore the land back to a naturalized version. Unfortunately, this requirement creates challenges to the economic development of rural communities in Nevada. State law allows these industrial areas to be repurposed to continue harnessing America’s energy future, allowing them to be transitioned at the end of their mining lifespan into renewable energy projects. This keeps our rural economies going, potentially creating green jobs and attracting new investments, while keeping our land productive.

Lastly, my bill with Senator Heller designates nearly 140 thousand acres of wilderness in seven areas throughout Pershing County to continue as wilderness while allowing for the addition of new citizens-proposed areas that protect vast seas of sage brush, magnificent antelope herds, and jagged mountainous peaks. These areas are crucial to Nevada’s thriving outdoor economy and they enjoy the support as well as the shared commitment of ranchers, private land-owners, conservation advocates, wildlife groups, hunters, miners, and many other stakeholders committed to persevering Pershing County’s and Nevada’s great natural heritage for generations to come.

I understand there are some stakeholders that have particular issues with the legislation, and I look forward to working with them to address those concerns. I would like to note that 85 percent of the State of Nevada is under some sort of Federal land management. Time and again, Nevadans have come together to find innovative ways to work with Federal partners to facilitate community growth, economic expansion, public work maintenance, and conservation protections. It is crucial that our Federal partners understand the unique local decision-making restrictions that confront Nevadans and not faced by residents of other states.

I also want to take a moment to thank the Committee and highlight the critical importance of the Eastern Nevada Economic Development and Land Management Improvement Act.

S.1046 makes crucial corrections and fixes to previously enacted legislation covering Lincoln and White Pine counties. These improvements enable the Bureau of Land Management to better administer watersheds and wildlife habitat, as well as diversify and expand the economy of Lincoln County. The bill attempts to balance development and conservation needs within the impacted counties and allows BLM to more fully implement its Ely District Resource Area Management Plan, protect critical sage grouse habitat, reduce hazardous fuels buildups, authorize rangeland and grassland restoration projects, and establishes cooperative agreements between counties and the BLM. These types of cooperative agreements are so important to ensuring the continued protection of designated Wilderness Areas and conservation planning.

The House companion to this bill passed with near-unanimous support in the last Congress, and I hope it will enjoy that same level of support in the Senate. 

I’d also just like to note and thank the many supporters and devoted local stakeholders that contributed to the discussion on this important legislation.

I look forward to working with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to move these bills forward, and I look forward to working with all stakeholders to resolve technical concerns and working with interested parties to address their concerns.

Thank you, Mister Chairman.