Federal Land Give-Away to Las Vegas Opposed   

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For Immediate Release: Friday, April 9, 2021
Contact:  Chandra Rosenthal; Kirsten Stade

Federal Land Give-Away to Las Vegas Opposed

Transfer Will Fuel Sprawl, Aggravating Water and Resource Woes

Washington, DC — Conservation groups oppose Congressional legislation to give federal land to the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada.  They contend the land give-away will fuel harmful sprawl, further strain limited water resources, and destroy important wildlife habitat.

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) has introduced S. 567, a measure entitled the Southern Nevada Economic Development Act.  It would allow 42,427 acres of the federal land in Nevada – approximately 65 square miles – adjacent to the new cities to be sold for commercial and residential development. This would open an undeveloped area larger than the city of Miami to urbanization.

Las Vegas and Henderson are ringed by federal land in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.  Those lands are now available for public recreation and wildlife, as well as energy development.  While some city boosters contend that the surrounding federal lands limit the cities’ expansion, Clark County’s website states that there is enough land within its current boundary (26, 364 acres) to accommodate another 5-7 years of average annual growth.

Among other concerns, the conservation groups opposing the Masto bill see it as an ominous precedent, encouraging Nevada to continue annexing federal land for private use.  Further, the groups fear similar legislation proposed by Congressional representatives in other Western states, setting off a new regional land rush with a major reduction of federal lands to feed urban growth.

The bill would enable the Las vegas metropolitan area to extend, for the first time, beyond the confines of the Las Vegas Valley.  Although the bill contains provisions to set aside some land for conservation and recreation purposes, the conservation opponents contend this is only a token commitment lacking any meaningful environmental protections.

Funds from the sale of these lands will be deposited in the state’s bank account, the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act Special Account.  This Special Account’s historic lack of transparency has sparked controversy.  For example, some projects that supposedly were to serve conservation purposes, such as the  Las Vegas Neon Museum and a new boat ramp at Lake Mead, did not seem to fit the intended conservation criteria.

More broadly, however, opponents point to the deleterious effects of more urban sprawl in the Nevada desert, including the harmful impacts to the state’s natural resources, greater strains on shrinking Colorado River allotments, and destruction of habitat for the threatened desert tortoise in Southern Nevada. Further, the transfer both increases generation of greenhouse gases that drive climate change, as well as aggravating the harmful effects of climate change, such as greater fire vulnerability, introduction of invasive species, and spreading erosion.



Read comments from groups opposing the bill

See the map of public lands proposed for annexation

View the proposed legislation, S.567 

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