Nineteen months after Nye County, Nev., County Commissioner Dick Carver challenged federal authority by bulldozing a road into the Toiyabe National Forest, the government has pushed back. On March 14, a U.S. District Court in Las Vegas struck down a controversial Nye County ordinance claiming ownership and management authority over Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.
Public lands are "owned by all Americans, to be managed by the United States," said Attorney General Janet Reno. "The court made it clear that Nye and other counties are no exception to this rule."
As if to punctuate the decision, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled a day later that a similar ordinance, passed by Boundary County's commissioners, is also unconstitutional (HCN, 1/23/95).
The rulings undermine the claims of so-called "county movement" advocates. More than 30 counties in the West have passed ordinances claiming control or ownership over federal lands in their jurisdictions.
Carver, however, maintains that the Nye County ruling is actually a victory because of the national publicity the lawsuit generated and because "... all we wanted was a seat at the table" with the federal land agencies. But Sierra Club spokeswoman Rose Strickland of Reno, Nev., says, "They (Nye County) have always had a seat at the table. The real game on the board is an essential fight over who controls, not owns, the federal lands."
Nye County officials say they have already spent approximately $70,000 to defend the county and, at this time, do not plan to appeal. And since their defeat, the county has begun negotiating in good faith with the BLM, says Ann Morgan, BLM state director for Nevada.
* Rick Keister