Guest op-ed: County land bill is a wish list for privatizers

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Clark County Government Center (Clark County photo)

If Donald Trump could write his own proposal for managing public lands in southern Nevada, it might look something like the bill slated to be voted on by the Clark County Commission on Tuesday, June 19.

Complete with public land sell-offs to developers, giveaways to utility companies, and a huge exemption to the Endangered Species Act, the Clark County bill is a veritable wish list for those who wish to privatize public lands and gut our bedrock environmental protections.

For almost two years, Clark County has been quietly putting together a proposal that would dramatically alter the pattern of development in southern Nevada. Selling off almost 40,000 acres of public land for development, it would allow Las Vegas to begin to sprawl outward from the bounds of the Las Vegas Valley.

It would also legislatively amend the plan that guides protection of the desert tortoise, an animal with threatened status under federal law, putting politicians instead of scientists in charge of protecting Nevada’s official state reptile.

Clark County leaders should consider the broader national political context surrounding this proposal.

Trump doesn’t know public lands from public restrooms, but his cronies like Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, are busily dismantling our country’s entire environmental regulatory system.

Recent examples include:

  • Legislation rammed through by Bishop that would allow oil drilling and fracking in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge;
  • Trump’s possibly illegal move, on Zinke’s recommendation, to strip protections from more than one million acres of conservation lands in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah through executive fiat;
  • Zinke’s Secretarial Orders shortcutting environmental review laws to expedite oil and gas drilling and fracking.

Indeed, a proposal with similar provisions to the Clark County bill just worked its way through Bishop’s House committee. The duplicitously named “Desert Tortoise Habitat Conservation Plan” bill from Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, would put Congress in charge of the management of the desert tortoise in Washington County, Utah, blasting a highway and utility corridors through tortoise conservation areas in the name of expedient development without scientific review or input.

Thus it should come as no surprise that the Las Vegas Review-Journal, owned by Trump supporter and GOP-mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, editorialized in favor of the county’s proposal last week.

What’s more, the paper framed it in terms of the larger public lands seizure movement: the Review-Journal editorial page views the Clark County proposal as just the first step in privatizing all of Nevada’s public lands.

This all begs the question: Why on earth would well-intentioned conservationists and ostensible Democrats on the county commission be negotiating with the anti-public lands, anti-conservation troika of Trump, Zinke, and Bishop and their ilk? It is unclear what outcome they could possibly hope for when it is so clear that negotiations at the federal level with these men would be conducted in bad faith.

And what’s next for Southern Nevada and our state reptile? Will we see a new Trump National Golf Course on former public lands south of the city? Will the tortoise continue its slide to extinction while developers get fat on profits from newly minted subdivisions?

Will the Endangered Species Act continue to be chipped away by the nefarious forces that have hijacked our federal government and pursue reckless development at all costs?

There is a time for discussions and a time for negotiations. But there is also a time to say no, and to resist. And that time is now.

Patrick Donnelly
Patrick Donnelly is the Nevada state director of the Center for Biological Diversity.


  1. I remember a British teacher I had years ago in HS talking to some of us after class, marveling at the abundance and caliber of our public land here in America. In Europe and the UK, he pointed out, the most beautiful or special lands were almost always owned by the very rich – usually a member of the aristocracy- or the crown. The idea of vast swaths of territory where hunting or logging is banned not just to the average citizen but even the rich and powerful was a huge culture shock to him. In the UK, there are private game reserves that are kept pristine but only so the owner can come with his friends during hunting season and moreover they have free rein to shoot as many animals as they want, the only inhibitor being that if they kill too many now they might not have enough to kill next year. An average citizen has little chance of joining these private clubs as they are very exclusive and usually admittance is due to birth or marriage into the family. The idea of a lottery to pick who was allowed just to buy a hunting licence was so incredibly democratic to him he was practically swooning.

    • The conversation impressed on me what it meant when people said the phrase “American exceptionalism”. Unfortunately, 20 years later our exceptionalism has been chipped away by the party that created it in the first place. From Teddy Roosevelt’s reverent love for this country’s majesty to tump and zinke stealing back public lands and giving them to political donors for personal enrichment while taxpayers and local citizens will reap little benefit and be on the hook for any environmental costs. How does destroying what make America great….make it great?


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