They're fed up, and aren't going to take it anymore

  • Drawing by Diane Sylvain


At a tumultuous meeting in late January, the Nevada Association of Counties endorsed a movement to turn control of federal lands over to state government.

Cheered on by 70 ranchers and miners, the group approved a letter to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy. It proposed that Nevada assume control of its public lands - approximately 87 percent of the state. Dick Carver, the rancher and Nye County commissioner who led the effort, said a group called the County Alliance to Restore the Economy and Environment wrote the letter to "make the secretaries bring out all their cards' in negotiations proposed by the group.

Federal and state officials, who at one point were called crooks and liars by some in the crowd, told the group the alliance's interpretation of law and the constitution was "misguided." "There is no legal support for the notion that local government can interfere with federal government," said Greg Addington of the Justice Department.

Carver admitted that his group is "not looking at going to court" to test its theories. Nevertheless, he insisted that "Nevada law is supreme" in management of its public land. He claimed that the U.S. Constitution and numerous Supreme Court decisions support the county alliance's position. An attorney representing the alliance, Terry Aurillo, responded to a question about shooting a bald eagle by saying the Endangered Species Act "doesn't apply on state lands."

After the meeting, Nevada deputy Attorney General Wayne Howle said the issue was not so much a state vs. federal issue, as public vs. private. "These people want to own the land," he said. But like the Sagebrush Rebellion of the late 1970s, Howle said, the movement to assert state and county control over federal lands is symbolic and doomed to fail.

The endorsement of the county alliance strategy by the Nevada Association of Counties may say more about the dwindling power of the state's rural counties than it does about how most Nevadans want their public lands managed. The association allows one representative per county, and thus favors Nevada's 15 rural counties over more populated Clark and Washoe counties, home to Las Vegas and Reno.

Nevada Association of Counties board member Thalia Dondero, whose Clark County constituency makes up about 65 percent of the state's population, did not attend the meeting. But she objected in writing to the endorsement of the county alliance's letter.

High Country News Classifieds