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The Clark County Lands Bill would protect Nevada’s unspoiled acres (and more)

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Red Rock National Conservation Area

Ever wonder why housing prices are so high when Las Vegas is surrounded by empty land just waiting to be developed? Like, why not break ground already?

The answer is that developers can’t endlessly build because most of Nevada—48 million acres, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—is owned by the federal government.

As Southern Nevada’s population continues to grow, different groups and interests compete for access to that land. Should an area be dedicated to affordable housing, environmental conservation or outdoor recreation?

After years of back and forth, the powers that be have reached a compromise with the Clark County Lands Bill. The County calls it a “coordinated, well-planned approach to our ever-increasing population, while not sacrificing the natural resources we hold so dear.”

Officially known as the Southern Nevada Economic Development and Conservation Act (SNEDCA), the bipartisan bill is sponsored by Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen in the Senate (S.567) and Rep. Mark Amodei in the House (H.R.253). The bill is now working its way through both chambers of the U.S. Congress.

Protecting the desert.

With more than 1.6 million acres going to new wilderness designations, Nevada’s natural legacy is at the forefront of the bill. “It makes it so that these lands are protected for future generations,” says Annette Magnus, the executive director of Battle Born Progress.

Returning ancestral lands to the Moapa Band of Paiutes.

The senators’ office worked directly with the tribal government in Moapa to expand the Moapa River Reservation by 41,028 acres. “This one is near and dear to my heart,” Magnus says. “It gives tribal governments the ability to self-govern and enable traditional and cultural uses [of] tribal land. This is something that the Paiutes have been asking for a very, very long time.”

By the Numbers

1,639,422 acres to receive new wilderness designation

353,716 acres for special management areas for species conservation

121,856 acres for federally protected off-highway vehicle recreation areas

30,633 acres within expanded disposal boundaries (land can be developed)

41,255 acres of Moapa River Reservation expansion for the Moapa Band of Paiutes.

Expanding Red Rock.

“We are thrilled,” Save Red Rock President Heather Fisher says of the bill’s planned 50,000-acre expansion of the national conservation area. “We took Catherine Cortez Masto on a tour of Red Rock [National Conservation Area], showed her all the issues and talked about everything.”

Fisher says that an earlier incarnation of the lands bill had a piece of Red Rock taken out for development. “It would have been three times the size of Mountain’s Edge, so we just fought that tooth and nail,” Fisher says. “Instead of BLM land adjacent to Red Rock turning into disposal lands, it’s turning into protected land. We couldn’t be happier.”

Increasing urban sprawl.

A UNLV projection estimates that Clark County’s population will grow to 3.61 million by 2060. While the most environmentally friendly way to address growth is via infill, expanding outward allows for greater economic diversification and keeps prices low. Expect to see an additional 30,633 acres of land surrounding Clark County open to development, much of it south of town on Interstate 15. There’s also an affordable housing component to the bill, which might be necessary for all of us if housing prices continue to explode.

Climate change protections.

Though some might argue that the increased sprawl will worsen climate change, the Lands Bill has some mitigation built in. The County estimates that $8.5 billion will be generated via SNPLMA funding from federal land sales. A portion of that money will go toward local parks, trails and natural areas. And now with this bill, it can also be spent on local climate change mitigation and prevention.

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