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Local leaders call on the Biden administration to protect the Ruby Mountains and places like it

Pam Harrington
Pam Harrington
David Ricker
David Ricker
Carl Erquiaga
Carl Erquiaga
Russell Kuhlman
Russell Kuhlman
Opinion
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The Ruby Mountains are a centerpiece of Nevada’s public lands. Whether it’s hiking to alpine lakes and glacial cirques, angling for brook and rainbow trout, or snowshoeing through a powdery byway, there is an outdoor adventure for everyone waiting in the Rubies. Yet, despite its unparalleled beauty, this jaw dropping outdoors has been threatened by speculators looking to make a quick buck by taking advantage of loopholes in the outdated oil and gas leasing program.

Fortunately, leaders in Nevada like Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Rep. Susie Lee are working hard to protect the Ruby Mountains and the wildlife, outdoor recreation opportunities, and local communities that rely on them — including through the Ruby Mountains Protection Act which would prohibit oil and gas leasing on this pristine landscape. But the work must not stop there. As the Biden administration carries out a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas leasing program, it is critical that it implements common-sense reforms to ensure that the Ruby Mountains and irreplaceable landscapes like them are never threatened again. 

Nevadans depend on the public lands in our state for grazing, hunting, recreation, and for supporting our outdoor and tourism economy. The Ruby Mountains in particular draw in visitors and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world to experience the towering peaks, horizon-chasing valleys, and remarkable wildlife. It is attractions like these that contribute to Nevada’s growing outdoor recreation economy, which generates $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue and supports 59,000 local jobs. But for too long, oil and gas companies have taken advantage of a system stuck in the past, threatening Nevada’s public lands and this economic pillar with reckless speculative leasing. 

For decades, the broken leasing system has allowed speculators to pursue leases of public lands with little to no actual oil potential, draining the Bureau of Land Management’s time and resources. The BLM administered lease sales for 2.6 million acres of Nevada’s public lands between 2017 and 2020, but the oil and gas industry purchased only 225,000 acres — 74 percent of which they bought for the minimum lease bid of just $2.00 per acre, generating minimal returns for taxpayers. This wasteful practice of offering leases in places with little energy potential harms communities like ours that depend on public lands for other activities including hunting, fishing, tourism, and outdoor recreation. 

Thankfully, Congresswoman Lee and Sen. Cortez Masto have introduced companion legislation in the House and Senate that would end the leasing of public lands with low or no drilling potential and enhance the management of other valuable uses of our public lands.

But speculative leasing is just one of the many problems that stem from the antiquated leasing program, and the Ruby Mountains are just one of the many special places that have been put on the chopping block. Across the West, places like Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and Arches National Park in Utah have all been jeopardized by this leasing system stuck in the past. In addition to Nevada’s leaders, members of Congress like Rep. Alan Lowenthal, Rep. Teresa Ledger Fernández, and Sen. Jacky Rosen are working hard to protect America’s public lands and taxpayers. Their legislation takes aim at cleaning up dirty abandoned drilling infrastructure, holding oil and gas companies accountable for cleaning up their messes, and bringing the 101-year old royalty rate oil and gas companies pay for drilling on our federal public lands, along with other fiscal terms for the federal oil and gas program, into the 21st century. 

Together, common-sense bills like these demonstrate that there is momentum in Congress to reform the federal leasing system so it works better for everyone. These bills also provide the Biden administration a sensible roadmap to use in their review of the federal oil and gas leasing program to protect our nation’s public lands for generations to come. 

Pam Harrington is the Northern Nevada field coordinator for Trout Unlimited, David Ricker is the policy chair for the Nevada Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Carl Erquiaga is the Nevada field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Russell Kuhlman is the executive director for the Nevada Wildlife Federation.

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