In January of 2020, the United Nations called on the governments of the world to protect 30 percent of the planet by 2030 as part of a larger effort to prevent the worst possible impacts of climate change on all planetary lifeforms.
Yesterday, the Nevada Assembly Committee on Natural Resources considered a sweeping joint resolution, AJR3, that would encourage the state and federal governments to work to protect 30 percent of Nevada’s land by 2030. The resolution urges the federal government to help ultimately protect 50 percent of the planet’s land by 2050, as the UN report advises.
A joint resolution is not a law and is merely a letter of recommendation to the stated recipients. Should AJR3 pass both houses of the Legislature and be signed by the governor, the Chief Clerk of the Assembly will prepare and transmit a copy of this resolution to the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States as the presiding officer of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, each member of the Nevada Congressional Delegation, Governor Steve Sisolak and the Director of the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Assemblywoman Celeia Gonzalez is the resolution’s primary sponsor, though Christi Cabrera, policy and advocacy director for the Nevada Conservation League, presented details of the resolution to lawmakers.
Cabrera drew a dire picture during the online meeting of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources.
“We’re facing a massive environmental crisis,” she said. “Every 30 seconds a football field worth of America’s natural areas disappears. At least 1/3 of American wildlife are at increased risk of extinction. And climate change is already having disastrous impacts across the globe. Nevada is on the front line of these crises.
“Our state has lost more than 9 million acres of wildlife habitat to wildfires in the last two decades, and we ranked third in the nation for having the highest number of species at risk. Nevada is also home to two of the fastest warming cities in the United States.
“To fend off these crises, many prominent scientists have called for the conservation of 30 percent of the world’s lands and waters by the year 2030. And because Nevada is more than 80 percent federal land, we have a unique opportunity to lead the nation on the 30 by 30 effort.”
Cabrera said that conserving 30 percent of our lands and waters will help Nevada mitigate the effects of climate change, protect outdoor spaces, and provide a net gain for the state’s economy.
“A recent report out of the University of Cambridge found that the economic benefits of the 30 by 30 goal outweigh the costs by a ratio of at least five to one,” Cabrera said during the online meeting. “The report also shows that protection in today’s economy brings in more revenue than the alternatives and likely adds revenue to agriculture and forestry while helping prevent climate change, water crises, biodiversity loss and disease.”
Republican lawmakers on the committee were skeptical.
Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen represents one of the largest geographic Assembly districts in the state that includes Esmeralda County, Humboldt County, Lander County, Mineral County, and parts of Pershing and Washoe counties, roughly one-third of the state’s land area.
Hansen prefaced her question with a statement about Paul Ehrlich, a biologist at Stanford University and president of the Center for Conservation Biology.
“I just kind of want to … I will take a little bit of issue with some of the claims made by Miss Cabrera. I know we all, believe it or not, we worry about our environment and our climate, and our beautiful state. But some of the things you said in your opening statement sound reminiscent of some of the concerns that were parroted in the ‘70s by Paul Ehrlich, who was a big kind of biodiversity biologist.
“And there was a speech that he had given in the ‘70s that said by the year 2000, that England might not even exist, and that there would be dead fish along our coastlines, if we continued on the course that we were on.
“Now, of course, Ehrlich’s predictions have not come true,” Hansen continued. “And so sometimes when I hear these really overreaching doomsday scenarios I get a little concerned about how factual they are. But that leads me to my real question.
“How are we defining ‘protect,’ because if we’re talking 30 percent in Nevada by 2030, which is nine years away, 30 percent in Nevada is about my Assembly District, which is one of the largest Assembly districts in the state. So what does ‘protect’ actually mean,” Hansen asked.
“I think that that’s open for discussion,” Cabrera responded. “And I think this resolution is really the start of that conversation. It needs to be a robust stakeholder process with everyone who cares about our public lands, whether that be private landowners, ranchers, conservationists, sportsmen, tribal representation, it needs to be a conversation that everyone’s involved in to really discuss what that means for Nevada specifically. And because so much of our land is federally owned, it needs to be a conversation with our federal land managers and our congressional delegation as well.”
Assemblywoman Hansen asked if there are any guidelines in the resolution that delineate specific land use restrictions important to her constituents.
“So we don’t have any definitive definitions per se of what ‘protect’ means?” Hansen asked. “So if we protect 30 percent of Nevada by 2030, are we allowed to drive our four wheeler on it? Are we allowed to camp on it? Are we allowed to graze our cattle on it? Are we able to have answers to any of that?”
“I think there are a lot of different kinds of designations that have different levels of protection,” Cabrera said. “So I know if a new wilderness area is designated, frequently, grazing rights are grandfathered in, and they are allowed to continue grazing there.
“There are more severe levels of protection where there aren’t vehicles allowed, but there are levels of protection where there are, and I think outdoor recreation is so big in our state that we want to make sure that we’re leaving it open to people who want to go and enjoy our lands, whether that be hiking and camping, off roading, hunting, all of that.”
Hansen bored in on the nature of possible protections.
“So protection could include some of the more strict requirements of wilderness areas. When we say protect in this resolution, it could be really strict conditions like we see in some wilderness areas.”
Committee chair, Assemblyman Howard Watts addressed the question of what it means to protect the land.
“It sounds like there’s a variety of options for how this goal could be met, all of which come with different potential uses for the land that can continue whether they’re designated as national parks, national monuments, wilderness areas, state parks, conservation easements, etc,” said Watts.
Assemblyman John Ellison is from Elko and represents one of the largest Assembly districts in Nevada to include Elko County, Eureka County, White Pine County and part of Lincoln County. Ellison expressed concern about the control of water rights associated with the land being protected. Assemblyman Jim Wheeler represents Douglas County, Storey County, and part of Lyon County and picked up on Ellison’s line of concern.
“Would it be capable for the federal government to remove some of the water rights that’s on some of this land, not make those water rights available to the public in the driest state in the nation,” asked Wheeler.
Chair Watts said Nevada water law and administration would remain intact.
“The waters within this state are held in the public trust and managed by the State Engineer, so any water right that is held in the state is managed in that way, so I don’t believe any action being proposed in this resolution would have any impact on our state water law and state water rights,” Watts said.
Assemblywoman Robin Titus represents Churchill County and part of Lyon County and questioned if Cabrera had any data to support the assertion that climate change and the frequency and intensity of wildfires is related.
“We had an interim committee on wildland fires, and really climate change wasn’t really that major factor, other than obviously we have cycles of drought and we have some of those concerns, however the actual issue of climate change, wasn’t one of those resounding measures why we have those wildland fires, perhaps poor management, perhaps response time, perhaps lightning, human causes.
“But I’m curious about how this bill or this letter supporting this 30 by 30 would actually have any impact on wildland fire since 80 percent of our property in Nevada is already controlled by the federal government. I’m just curious where that connection was that you feel it (AJR3) would decrease wildland fires.”
There are numerous studies that shown a strong if not incontrovertible connection between a warming climate and the frequency, intensity and duration of wildfires, especially in the western United States. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is unequivocal in connecting wildfires and climate change. From the UCS website:
“Although fire has always been a natural—and beneficial—part of many ecosystems, climate change and other human-caused factors are fundamentally changing the frequency and intensity of wildfires in many places in the US and around the world.”
Christi Cabrera responded to Titus’ inquiry and said that a warming climate spelled better conditions for larger, more frequent wildfires. Assemblywoman Titus doubled down on her position.
“Because we already have, like I said, 80 percent of our land is already part of the federal government, although we own the land, they manage it. And by now saying, well, we want 30 percent of the land protected when it hasn’t helped to have an 80 percent protected, so I just wanted to make sure folks did not misunderstand what you were trying to say that this would absolutely decrease wildfires. I don’t think you can make that connection,” Titus said.
The committee took no action on the Resolution. Testimony ranged widely.
Testimony in Support:
Jaina Moan, external affairs director for the Nature Conservancy in Nevada.
Larry Johnson president of the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife
Russell Kuhlman, representing the Nevada Wildlife Federation
Grace Palermo, southern Nevada programs director for Friends of Nevada Wilderness
Maria-Teresa Liebermann-Parraga with Battle Born Progress
Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director, Center for Biological Diversity
Laura Richards, a volunteer member of the Sierra Club’s legislative committee
David Ricker, Nevada Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
Testimony in Opposition
Lynn Chapman, state treasurer of the Independent American Party
Jake Tibbitts, Eureka County natural resources manager
Janine Hansen, state president, Nevada Families for Freedom
Wade Poulsen, general manager of Lincoln County Water District
Doug Busselman, executive vice president of the Nevada Farm Bureau
Neena Laxalt, representing the Nevada Cattleman’s Association
Chaunsey Chau-Duong, speaking on behalf of the Southern Nevada Water Authority
Colby Prout, natural resources manager for the Nevada Association of Counties