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@example.com. 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.
That’s about how much Nevada land the federal government manages. What that means is that anyone who wants to do anything on that land must get the green light from managers at agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the Forest Service. It also means the federal government can play an outsized role in controlling access to public land.
The dynamic creates a natural tension between the federal government, the state, 17 counties, 27 tribes and a motley group of public land users that includes miners, ranchers, rockhounds, hunters, anglers, burners, climbers, conservationists, backpackers and everyone in between.
That tension was on display this week.
It was about Burning Man on Monday night in Sparks. Nearly 200 burners packed into the Nugget Casino Resort to challenge the BLM’s proposed mitigation requirements — dumpsters, drug searches, concrete barriers — as Burning Man seeks a new 10-year permit to operate and potentially expand the gathering on public land near Gerlach. Burning Man’s operator distributed handouts Monday night to “fact-check” the BLM, saying that the requirements outlined in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement would “spell the end of the event as we know it.”
The meeting was charged, as the Reno Gazette Journal reported, and the format diverged from most public comment sessions, where comments are taken, recorded and the project proponent usually plays a subdued role. Instead, Burning Man’s associate director of government affairs actively grilled the BLM during the question-and-answer session. The next night in Lovelock, rural Nevadans expressed concern about the trash generated by the event but agreed with burners that BLM’s request for more security could be problematic, per the Gazette Journal.
I’ll be writing more on this. Some questions: How much of this is political? Does the proposed mitigation go too far and exceed the scope of an environmental assessment? Or are there real environmental concerns? How does this fit into larger debates about environmental reviews?
The Legislature, the Navy and the land: A diverse crew of groups, from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to Friends of Nevada Wilderness to the Nevada Mining Association testified in favor of Assembly Joint Resolution 7, which opposes the proposed expansion of a military base in Fallon. The Navy has said it needs to expand its air station in Fallon by about 600,000 acres to train for modern warfare, as aircraft are built to launch weapons from greater distances. Several lawmakers clarified that they supported the Navy and the bill was not a rebuke of the military. The measure passed unanimously out of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining.
Actually, let’s keep BLM Nevada? A similarly varied group of interests also testified Monday in support of a resolution urging the Department of Interior to maintain a state BLM office as part of its reorganization. The reorganization seeks to base Interior’s regional offices on watersheds and topographic boundaries, instead of state lines. As we reported in November, Sandoval and other groups were concerned that the reorganization would add bureaucracy and fragment local input.
Then on Wednesday, a judge called claims in rancher Cliven Bundy’s latest lawsuit “simply delusional.” Bundy tried to persuade yet another court that federal public land in Nevada belonged to the state. The judge dismissed the case (if you’re interested, there is a good legal article breaking down the common arguments against federal land ownership and why they fail in court).
Moving on to the only thing more complicated than public land, Western water…
A water compromise: In a surprise move, the state, environmentalists and rural water users reached a compromise on a controversial water bill that the Great Basin Water Network, tribes and a coalition of other groups argued would enable the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposed project to pump groundwater 250 miles from outside of Ely to Las Vegas. A language change to Assembly Bill 30, negotiated over the past few weeks, was enough to convince several opponents of the bill, including the water network, the Nevada Conservation League and Eureka County, to change their positions from opposed to neutral on Wednesday. As a result, the bill passed out of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining on a 7-4 vote, with Republican lawmakers opposing the bill. The language change restrains how state regulators can use mitigation plans when disputes arise between water users over pumping groundwater.
A piece on the river: A Southwest drought plan for the Colorado River cleared Congress this week. The plan would require the seven states that use the Colorado River to make voluntary cuts during times of shortage in order to avoid even more severe, federally mandated cuts. But it is only one piece toward getting the Colorado River to a place that is sustainable for the long-term. The Colorado Sun, a fellow nonprofit startup, has an outstanding piece on what it all means.
Clips from the news:
- Sierra snowpack is way above average, meaning a good water year for Northern Nevada. The snowpack is ranging from 143-193 percent of median. (Nevada Appeal)
- Volunteers planted 4,000 sagebrush seedlings to rehabilitate rangelands destroyed by a fire near Battle Mountain that burned about 59,000 acres. (BLM)
- Nevada resumes fertility control for free-roaming horses near Reno. (AP)
- Many thought it was hail. But it was graupel that fell on Reno this week. (@NWSReno)
- Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto led 13 senators in writing a letter to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt over public involvement in oil and gas leasing. (Letter)
- NPR spoke to the flying baby from a famous 1995 Patagonia catalog. She lives in Las Vegas, climbs, and is not ruling out the idea of re-creating the photo one day. (NPR)
What I’m listening to: The audiobook of World War Z. It came out in 2006 and I remember it being wildly popular. So yeah, I’m a little late to the game. But I had some driving to do this weekend, and my friend recommended the audiobook (cast includes Alan Alda, Mark Hamill and John Turturro) as a good pick for riding around the Great Basin. He was right. The book chronicles the response to a zombie plague through a series of first-person interviews. Worth listening to if you’re interested in geopolitics or the challenges in communicating global crises.
Update: This story was updated at 7:46 a.m. on April 11 to add more information about the groups that reached a compromise on Assembly Bill 30 and how lawmakers voted on the bill.