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Wild horses on federal public land on July 13, 2016. (BLM Nevada)

In an effort to provide a more comprehensive report on water, land and development issues, this “beat sheet” will break down the news of the week with a peek into the future. Let me know whether you have any tips, suggestions, criticisms or story ideas at [email protected]. If you want to receive Indy Environment in your inbox, you can sign-up here. If you want to help our mission of providing nonprofit reader-supported journalism, please support us here. And if you’d like to place an ad in Indy Environment, please contact [email protected] for rates.

I am roguish – I am flighty – I am inbred – I am lowly.

I’m a nightmare – I am wild – I am the horse.

I am gallant and exalted – I am stately – I am noble.

I’m impressive – I am grand – I am the horse.

-- “Equus Caballus,” a poem by Joel Nelson

From its foreignness to its fighting spirit, the wild horse symbolizes so much about the American West, the complicated history of its settlement and how we have mythologized it in history.

Nevada is at the center of wild horse country. There are wild horses, I was reminded at a happy hour over the weekend, proudly displayed on the Nevada state coin. It was a Nevada advocate, “Wild Horse Annie,” whose campaign convinced Congress to pass the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the law that requires the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to protect horses as symbols of the West. Nearly fifty years since that law was passed in 1971, more than half of the nation’s protected horses roam in Nevada’s vast stretches of sagebrush habitat.

Everyone loves horses. But whether they admit it publicly or not, many users of public land view horses with mixed emotions. For many wildlife biologists, conservationists, tribes, ranchers and hunters, the horse has become a symbol of mismanagement on public land.

They argue there are too many horses on the range, trampling forage, squeezing out resources for wildlife and leaving wild horses, in many cases, unable to survive. Some horses advocates agree, but they argue the claims are overstated by federal land managers, the livestock industry and interests intent on reopening slaughterhouses. (If you want to read more on this, the book “Wild Horse Country,” by New York Times reporter David Philipps, offers a great dive into the issue).

That’s why it was a big deal this week when the Humane Society and other animal advocacy groups released a proposal that included the continued use of roundups (in addition to fertility control) as a strategy for wild horse management. The American Wild Horse Campaign called it “unscientific” and said the humane organizations had been “co-opted” by the livestock industry.

The Humane Society and others, in their press release, argued that something needed to be done, with wild horses facing increasing threats in Congress. Their compromise, they argued, would solve some of the public lands issues while avoiding the sale of horses for slaughter.

It will be interesting to see whether it actually makes a difference. Until then…

After the Renewable Portfolio Standards: On Monday, Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bipartisan bill requiring utilities to source 50 percent of their power from renewables by 2030. It’s actually a little more complicated, which my colleagues break down, but that’s the basic premise of the bill.

In doing so, Sisolak gave environmentalists a clear win — and the governor was able to do so in a bipartisan way. Why? It’s the economy, stupid. Unlike many other Western states, including California, Nevada does not have an active oil and gas industry. That means we import most of the fossil fuel we consume. That fact gave lawmakers an economic case for incentivizing renewable development (Nevada is rich in sunlight and geothermal potential).

But this is only the beginning of the conversation. Not the end.

For environmentalists looking at climate change, the world is about to be one of many hard tradeoffs. As humans, we’ve already modified the world so significantly that any fixes are going to require more modifications. Electrification is going to require not only a change in what we consume but how much we consume. We are going to need more energy. Higher temperatures mean more demand. So do electric cars. And that means more transmission and solar arrays — and a lot of it on public land. That comes with its own set of conservation issues, as I wrote over the weekend. It also means more demand for minerals and metals like lithium and cobalt.

Climate change is, at once, tied to the hip with and affected by energy and land issues. And solutions to it require system-scale planning and a conversation about priorities and values.

That conversation should start sooner rather than later.

Tossing Sandoval’s wilderness idea to Sisolak: At the end of his term, former Gov. Brian Sandoval’s administration proposed doing away with about 510,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas to mitigate the impacts of the Navy’s plan to expand its Fallon training range. Such a move would effectively remove wilderness protections from those areas. As a result, removing Wilderness Study Areas has been a flashpoint in public lands debates among conservationists. Former Sen. Dean Heller learned this last year. Sandoval’s proposal caught many by surprise. Rep. Mark Amodei, the only Republican in the delegation, said this week that his office was not consulted about it.

When asked about the Sandoval plan, Sisolak did not take a yes or no position.

“The governor’s staff and agencies are continuing to thoroughly analyze the impact of releasing Wilderness Study Areas considered under the Sandoval administration,” Helen Kalla, Sisolak’s spokesperson, wrote in an email. “It is unclear as to whether the release would adequately or appropriately mitigate the economic impacts of the military’s proposed withdrawal, given the loss of conservation protections for these areas under such a proposal. In general, Governor Sisolak has concerns about the release of any Wilderness Study Area acreage without sufficient justification, let alone over 500,000 acres. Instead, the governor reiterates his call for the Navy to fully analyze and consider the full ​impacts of their proposal on recreation, renewable geothermal energy development, grazing, minerals, and other activities important to Nevadans.”

One lands bill to rule them all? In an interview this week, Amodei reiterated his message to the Legislature that the state should view the Navy’s plan to expand by about 600,000 acres as an opportunity to deal with a number of public lands issues that counties face. Several counties, including Clark County and Washoe County, are working on lands bills. Those bills would change how the federal government manages land within those counties, often affecting what areas are protected for conservation or open to development. As the military looks for congressional approval to expand its presence on public land in Northern Nevada and outside Las Vegas, Amodei said he could see a situation in which elements of several county requests could be included to the Navy’s base expansion bill as friendly amendments. But he added that would only be possible if the county bills were bipartisan.

“There is a ton of opportunity out there for stuff that has a nexus or connection to what they’re doing,” Amodei said this week. “And the lands bill that has to be passed is a very rare thing.”

State lawmakers have generally supported Assembly Joint Resolution 7, which opposes the Navy's proposed expansion. Local groups worry the expansion could affect everything from grazing rights to geothermal development.

Amodei was characteristically blunt about what happens next.: “The Navy bill will pass.”

Hard rock release: The Nevada Current did a story this week on the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual “Toxic Release Inventory,” which chronicles waste in the air, land and water. EPA’s director of enforcement for our region, Amy Miller, told me that the goal of the inventory is to “begin a conversation” about potential exposure sources in local communities.

In addition to inventorying the release of chemicals into air and water, the inventory requires the reporting of displaced land that could potentially expose chemicals of concern. As a result, Miller said Nevada's mining industry creates “unique circumstances” for the state when it comes to the inventory. And it is why the state ranked number one for releases per square mile, as the Current noted. Are all of those releases, mostly exposed rock that has been displaced or moved, toxic? Many of the rock releases are probably benign, said John Hadder, the director of Great Basin Resource Watch. "What's really at issue is they are exposing rock surfaces that were previously not exposed,” he said. “In doing so, they’re exposing potential contaminants to the environment.” Dana Bennett, the president of the Nevada Mining Association, said much of that waste rock is regulated under state permits.

Remainders:

  • Are you a trail-runner in Reno? You could have a say in where new trails go and protect the ones you love with a Truckee Meadows Trails project. (RGJ)
  • A broad coalition of hunting groups launched a campaign and website to Save the Rubies from potential oil an. (SportsmenfortheRubies.com)
  • Las Vegas is getting hotter faster than any other city in country. (Nevada Current)
  • After a slump, more money went into mineral exploration last year. The state reported a 31 percent increase in exploration. (Nevada Division of Minerals)
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