Carson City – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved the Bently Land Acquisition Project of nearly 15,000 acres of environmentally important lands owned by Bently Family Limited Partnership. The roughly 50 disparate parcels are in-holding lands in the BLM managed Pine Nut Mountains of Douglas, Carson, and Lyon Counties. The properties are located within a central 20-mile section of the Pine Nut Mountains, which run north-south for some 40 miles. To learn more about this pending land transfer, we spoke with Victoria Wilkins, acting field manager for the Sierra Front Field Office of the BLM in Carson City …
The nearly $12 million needed for the land acquisition comes from proceeds generated by the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act of 1998 (SNPLMA). The Bently acquisition marks the largest single expenditure in the 15th round of funding.
What is the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act?
Under SNPLMA, federal agencies sell off land in southern Nevada for potential development in auctions twice a year. The money raised is then used to buy lands better suited for conservation and long term management elsewhere in the state, but Wilkins pointed out that SNPLMA generates money for not only land acquisition but other aspects of public land management in Nevada.
“When SNPLMA was passed, it included a number of provisions,” Victoria Wilkins said. “A big part of that was disposal of some of the urban interface public lands around Las Vegas, to allow for growth and expansion of the City of Las Vegas, but it created basically a special account where a percentage of the proceeds of the sale of those land went to the special account to be utilized for other purposes across the state. Land acquisition, development of recreation facilities, trails, parks etc., fire fuel reduction projects, so the money that comes out of those disposals gets to go to benefit and stay relatively local within the state.”
The administrative chore of adding the many Bently parcels to federal management ledgers is big, and though the BLM recently approved the acquisition, the agency has not formally taken over management of the Bently land.
“The lands haven’t actually been acquired by the BLM at this point. We just recently issued a decision regarding the acquisition after completing our National Environmental Policy Act compliance process and our environmental assessments,” explained Wilkins. “We’re probably still a year or more off from completing that transaction. There’s quite a bit of administrative paperwork that has to get done to actually complete the lands transaction such as title reports and record searches and things like that to make sure we have clean title to the property, so that work is still ongoing, but once it’s complete we’ll be taking that 14,000 acres of private into the public domain to be manage for public benefit, public access, public use .”
Why is this important?
The acquisition would prevent private development and consolidate federal ownership and management for the protection of Sage Grouse Habitat, various cultural resources, riparian areas, and other habitat. The move is also intended to improve public access.
Below is a description of “resource values” from the Final Environmental Assessment of the Bently Land Acquisition:
The Bently Bi-State Sage Grouse Critical Habitat Acquisition include several creeks in in the Pine Nut Mountains, the largest and most significant of which are Pine Nut and Buckeye Creek watersheds. Recent telemetry and GPS monitoring studies by the U.S. Geological Service indicate that areas along Buckeye Creek and other upland drainages and stringer meadows provide critical Bi-State Sage Grouse brood rearing habitat. The Bently properties also contain meadows, seasonal ponds, and numerous named and unnamed springs, including Erastra, Mineral, Lebo, Pipe, and Buffalo, among others. Sagebrush, bunchgrass, rabbitbrush, bitterbrush, aspen, piñon pine, and juniper are abundant, offering a unique ecologically diverse mosaic of habitat important to numerous species of plants and wildlife. The Bently properties contain cultural resources and sites of important past human use. Cultural site types include prehistoric lithic scatters, stone alignments, and campsites representing at least 12,000 years of human history. Other more recent cultural sites also represent traditional activities such as hunting, tool making, and pine nut harvesting. The Bently properties’ proximity to the Minden-Gardnerville, Carson City, and Yerington-Smith Valley urban areas provides an outstanding outdoor recreational opportunity for local residents and visitors.
Taken together, the many parcels add up to more than 14,000 acres, and when the BLM acquires the property, the acquisition will connect large swaths of land already under public management. Victoria Wilkins said addition of the new parcels helps better establish contiguous blocks of habitat in a scenic area that could be attractive for development.
“That’s gonna be one of the important benefits of acquiring these parcels into the public domain is that it helps consolidate management, and consolidating that land ownership has benefits both for habitat and ecological values as well as the administrative needs because it just helps address a lot of those challenges that can come with being land managers, so if you look at a map of the Pine Nuts you’ll see there is a lot of interspersed ownership,” Wilkins said. “There’s public, private and a number of tribal allotments, and that interspersed ownership creates a lot of challenges for managing for contiguous blocks of habitat. Approximately 9,500 acres of the land we’re proposing to acquire is actually proposed as critical habitat for bi-state sage grouse which is currently proposed for listing.
“By acquiring that land we’re also helping to create some bridges between areas of habitat to create continuity between those blocks of habitat helping ensure that habitat stays connected and continues to be managed for the benefit of not just the sage grouse but other species that rely on that habitat.”
How attractive is the land for development?
“That’s really part of the justification for us pursuing the acquisition is that there is some potential or was some potential for those parcels to be sold for development,” Wilkins said. “The parcels are scattered throughout the Pine Nuts, but a lot of them are relatively close proximity to growing urban areas, and areas like Gardnerville and Carson City continue to expand, those pressures keep moving outward, and there already is a number of residences scattered among the foothills of the Pine Nuts on private holdings. It’s a special area that has a lot of water. It’s gorgeous scenery. I suspect there are a lot of people who would be interested in development in that area.”
The state of Nevada is mostly federally managed land, but along the regions where public and private land intersect, there is a keen competition between land conservationists and developers, but the Bureau of Land Management, through SNPLMA, plays a different role, both selling and buying land in the state.
“Right now with that increasing development pressure I think one of the biggest issues we’re seeing is securing public access to public lands that are already in public domain, so yes there is definitely some benefit in consolidating ownership of some of these lands that are like to face development pressures,” Wilkins said. “On the other hand, as an agency, we’re also looking to consolidate ownership by disposing of parcels that aren’t contiguous with other blocks of BLM land and that are also therefore difficult to manage and maybe are more suited to development than management for multiple uses.
“So that’s really how have to look at it from the perspective of consolidating ownership and what makes the most sense. We want to block out and consolidate ownership of areas that have high habitat and resource value, but we also want to look at disposing of parcels that really don’t and are maybe important to local communities for economic development, expansion and growth.”
The Pine Nut mountains are popular with OHV enthusiasts, mountain bikers, and hikers, but the area is also home to threatened species, rare plants, water resources and a wild horse management area. Victoria Wilkins described a balancing act.
“One of the challenges that comes with intermixed ownership like that is that access can become an issue, and we don’t have formally designated trail systems in the Pine Nuts right now for certain types of uses, but we do have some OHV routes and some things like that that we have identified there, but the Pine Nut Mountains are really popular for motorized and non-motorized recreation, and while this is not going to be the solution for securing access to the Pine Nuts long-term. There are still quite a few other inholdings. This is a huge huge step forward in terms of ensuring the public continues to have access to those lands,” Wilkins said. “Because if you look at the map and all those little chunks, there’s a lot of places, were those private lands to be developed and future land-owners who decide that they didn’t want to allow access, it would have the potential to limit public access to some of those parcels.”
For more from Victoria Wilkins, listen to the audio interview embedded above …