2019 Legislature recognized the power of public lands
Nevada’s public lands provide a litany of opportunities for outdoor recreation, habitat for wildlife and simple beauty. People come from around the world and across the country to experience these majestic sites. In every corner of the state, Nevadans and visitors spend time outside with family and friends — hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and enjoying the great outdoors.
All this activity is generating a strong economic punch: $12.6 billion in spending, to be exact. That spending supports over 87,000 jobs and brings in $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenue.
Unfortunately, our public lands and parks, and the economic benefits they bring to our state, have been under constant threat from the Trump administration. Trump officials have routinely attempted to roll back protections or open vast stretches of land to extractive industries that would limit public access and destroy the land’s recreational and ecological values. That’s why Nevada’s leaders, recognizing the powerful outdoor recreation economy that our public lands support, took swift action during the 2019 legislative session.
Thanks to Gov. Steve Sisolak, legislative leadership and representatives such as Assemblywomen Maggie Carlton, Sarah Peters, Heidi Swank and Lesley Cohen, as well as state Sen. Melanie Scheible, Nevada is leading conservation efforts across the West by passing legislation to fund and protect public lands and foster our outdoor recreation economy.
Assembly Bill 486, led by Carlton and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, created a state Division of Outdoor Recreation. The office will promote the growth of our significant outdoor recreation economy in Nevada and support stewardship and protection of our public lands. The division also will spotlight recreational opportunities for Nevadans and work to connect residents to these areas.
Meanwhile, Assembly Bill 84 reauthorized $217.5 million in state bonds to invest in conservation projects and historical resources, including wildlife habitat, open space acquisitions and clean water protections. Without the leadership from Sisolak’s office and Carlton, this bonding program would have expired and parks and public lands would have lost significant funding opportunities. Thanks to them, Nevada has made its single largest investment in the conservation of our natural resources.
While our public lands are providing memorable experiences and fueling economic growth, many are under threat and could quickly see public access limited. One of those places is the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, the largest such refuge in the continental United States. The proposed expansion poses a risk to habitat for numerous species, important cultural resources and existing public access. Assembly Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Cohen, declared the Legislature’s opposition to the Air Force’s effort to expand the Nevada Test and Training Range further into the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. Scheible sponsored a similar resolution in the Senate that passed with overwhelming and bipartisan support.
Yet another threat to Nevada’s lands are the relentless attempts to turn Yucca Mountain into a nuclear waste dump. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, along with Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford, have been vocal in their opposition.
And when it was revealed that the Department of Energy had secretly shipped radioactive plutonium to Nevada, the Legislature once again made the will of Nevadans known. AJR1, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, reiterated that the transportation of highly radioactive, weapons-grade plutonium poses serious and unacceptable risks to the environment, the economy and the health of Nevadans, and that Nevada will not serve as a nuclear waste dump.
These bills are just a few examples of the Legislature’s work to protect our public lands and the benefits those lands bring to our state. It’s no surprise, then, that many of these bills passed with overwhelming and bipartisan support. The coalitions that supported them were also broad and diverse.
On Sept. 28, we’ll get a chance to celebrate Nevada’s public lands and these legislative victories thanks to state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro’s 2017 bill that created Nevada Public Lands Day. And just as the 2019 legislative session built off 2017, we look forward to working with our legislators to continue prioritizing our public lands and protecting all that they bring to Nevada.
If you are interested in learning more about what happened in the 2019 legislative session for our public lands, stay tuned: in a few weeks, the Nevada Conservation League will release its legislative scorecard.