It’s easy to take for granted all the purposes our national parks and conservation areas serve. We visit places like Lake Mead and Red Rock Canyon to escape our daily bustle, give our kids hands-on history and science lessons, seek out alternative energy sources and, most popularly, live out our weekend-warrior fantasies.
But those public lands—and our access to them—could be threatened by the Trump administration. A 2018 budget proposal would reduce funding for the Interior—the executive department that oversees our national parks—by 12 percent. Also, the Nevada Independent recently revealed a proposed $230-million cut from the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. The subsequent strain on the national park system could mean closed visitor centers, a reduction of maintenance and security, and limited resources for battling wildfires.
Furthermore, there’s talk both in Washington and at the current legislative session in Carson City regarding the transfer rights of federal lands (which comprise nearly 85 percent of Nevada), despite the possibilities of overburdening state agencies that oversee public lands, the potential sale of those lands to private parties and restricted recreational access. So, should local nature explorers worry?
Mauricia Baca, executive director of nonprofit group Outside Las Vegas, says that while it’s always good to keep an eye on things, there’s no need to worry yet. For one, it’s too early to gage what budget Congress will approve. And outdoorspeople have well-positioned allies in Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.
But Baca also sees untapped opportunities in the growing outdoors/recreation business, to which lawmakers—and even the casino industry—should be attentive. “For instance, in Caliente, there’s potential for the growing mountain bike industry. [Bikers] need places to stay, eat and service their bicycles.” She adds that concerned citizens should remind those lawmakers of those economic possibilities, and of their love for Southern Nevada’s unique landscape.
“It may sound like I’m painting a rosy picture, but I actually think there’s a lot we can do,” Baca says. “When you look at survey results and ask people if they value their public lands and outdoor recreation, overwhelmingly the answer is yes. … People who live close to public lands may not always be aware of the fact they really are our lands. It’s incredibly special that we have these open spaces and resources.”