Wilderness advocates 'overplayed their hand'

Rep. Dean Heller said a proposal by the Nevada Wilderness Project will make it difficult to do a lands bill of any sort for Lyon and Mineral counties.

"This has played out very poorly," Heller, R-Nev., told The Record-Courier on Monday. "The special interest groups have made this process very difficult. They've overplayed their hand is the bottom line."

The wilderness project is proposing that 195,638 acres in Lyon County and 497,251 acres in Mineral County be set aside as wilderness.

Heller said the proposal was supposed to be worked out between the project and others who use the land, such as ranchers and those using it for recreation.

"The Nevada Wilderness Project was supposed to be negotiated between local cattlemen, county commissioners and the people involved," he said. "It was supposed to be done in good faith and it wasn't."

Heller said he met with Lyon County commissioners and held a town hall meeting in Hawthorne to hear what residents had to say about the proposal.

"I've traveled around quite a bit over this issue," he said. "People are very vocal and for good reason. They are very concerned about a bill that doesn't have community buy-in. I believe they have every reason to be upset."

No draft of a lands bill has been prepared yet. As Northern Nevada's representative in the House of Representatives, Heller would have to carry the bill in the lower house.

He said Nye County commissioners have already approached his office as being opposed to any lands bill.

"Nye County said without any prompting that if we're thinking of putting together a lands bill, 'keep us out of it.'"

Heller said a lands bill could affect Douglas County as well.

"I'm one of these people who does hunt and fish, I own a '46 Willys Jeep. I've hunted deer in these mountains, I have seen cows and sheep graze there. I understand fully why they're concerned."

Heller said if he's leaning in any direction, it's toward public access of federal lands.

"I'm not convinced that the federal government is a good steward of our public lands," he said. "If you look at property that is managed by farmers and ranchers, and look at how poorly the federal government manages the property, you can't compare the two."

A representative of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., agreed the lands bill is has yet to be drafted.

"It's not anywhere near being written yet," Jon Summers, Reid's communication director said.

"We're still talking to everyone in the community and asking 'If we were to put a lands bill together, what would you like to see in it?'" he said. "This is very early in the process. No one is looking to force a bill down anyone's throats and at the end of the day, we're not going to force it on them."

Phil Tucker of the Coalition for Public Access, which is opposing any wilderness designation, said Heller has been supportive.

"It's too early to tell which way this thing is going to go," Tucker said.

Nearly 800 people attended an April 2 meeting at Smith Valley High School on the designation. Among those in attendance were representatives of Heller, Sens. Reid and John Ensign. Tucker said many people attended from Mineral and Lyon counties and a few from Douglas, including Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville.

He said three members off the Wilderness Project attended the meeting.

"Both sides feel really strongly about this," he said. "When you look at the issues, it's very hard to talk about a compromise. The way we see it, if we compromise, what they don't get this time they will come back and get in a year or two. If they have it designated wilderness it's only going to be relatively young people and relatively fit people who will be able to use it. You won't see little kids going in with grandma and grandpa. That's not going to happen if it becomes wilderness."

Tucker said the coalition was formed in February after a dozen of the original members met with grazing permitees, who had been approached by both the wilderness project and Congressional staffers.

"We went from 12 people on Feb. 1 to 1,500 right now," he said.

Tucker credited Lyon County Commission Phyllis Hunewell for her efforts on behalf of the coalition.

He said that Gardnerville Democrat Jill Derby came out against the wilderness designation publicly and attended the April 2 meeting. Derby is challenging Heller in the November election.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment