Morros Fears Feds' Retaliation
Misbehavior by U.S. Forest Service
Not Dealt With by Senate Bill 96

Elko Daily Free Press

Last week's Nevada Attorney General's opinion upholding the constutionality of a 1995 state water law was a mixed blessing for Elko County ranchers.
The law, Senate Bill 96, was passed by the Nevada Legislature and signed by Gov. Bob Miller in 1995 and amends state law to prevent anyone who doesn't own livestock from acquiring stock watering rights.
The law effectively shut out the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in its attempts to acquire those rights.
Even though the law prevents the BLM from acquiring the water rights, the opinion concluded that only the BLM was affected by law and left the U.S. Forest Service free to continue its efforts to secure the rights to Nevada's head waters.
"Making the forest service immune from SB 96 is the majority of the problem in rural Nevada," said Ruby Valley rancher Cliff Gardner. "The forest service is taking the lead in taking adverse action against permitees who won't support their efforts."
The law only applies to the BLM because its language stating the watering permits and certificates of appropriations are limited to those applicants who are "legally entitled to place the livestock on the public lands for which the permit is being sought." The bill amended several provisions in Nevada Revised Statute 533.



The opinion says state law considers those lands managed by the BLM to be "public lands" as opposed to those lands managed by the forest service and U.S. National Parks Service as "reserved lands." Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, said it's too late for this legislative session to change the wording in the law to include the forest service.
"It's a legitimate concern because if it's unlawful for the BLM to get these water rights," Rhoads said, "then why is it lawful for the forest service?" Rhoads said he will work on changing the language and might even get help from other western states.
But Pete Morros, director of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and State Engineer Mike Turnipseed expect Nevada to suffer the wrath of the U.S. Congress and the BLM because of the opinion.
The law was a "knee-jerk" reaction to proposed rangeland reforms from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, Morros said.
Morros and Turnipseed said the BLM now has the necessary proof to go to Congress to get stronger laws put in


 
the books giving the agency greater control.
"This will not serve the best interests of Nevada in the long run," Morros said. "We've given the federal government all the ammunition they need. They can go to Congress and say they tried to comply with state law and got kicked in the teeth for it." Turnipseed, who until last week was holding 99 sole and 18 joint applications from the BLM for stock water rights, said the agency could begin preventing rangeland improvements.
"It was a hollow victory for Nevada because it means the end of range improvements," Turnipseed said.
Rhoads said instead of creating problems for Nevada, the law will create more problems for the federal government as more states duplicate Nevada's water law.
"I've already had a couple calls from some of the other western states about getting this passed in their legislatures," Rhoads said.
And Rhoads said Nevada has nothing to fear from Congress because several western-state senators and




representatives hold influential positions on key committees and subcommittees.
Gene Gustin, chairman of Elko County's Public Land Use Advisory Commission, said any retaliation by the federal government would only strengthen the resolve of those advocating more local control over public lands.
"I can see their concerns," Gustin said about the position of Morros and Turnipseed. "We say the water belongs to Nevada and the BLM says the land belongs to them and they [the BLM] won't allow ranchers to put in any infrastructure to get the water from there to here." Gustin said Morros and Turnipseed have got to force Nevada's right to make its own decisions, even though 87 percent of the state is managed by the federal government.
"This is why the very question of state sovereignty has got to be addressed," Gustin said. "If you can't move it [water] across their ground, then what have you got?"


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