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This opinion column was submitted by Russell Kuhlman, the executive director of the Nevada Wildlife Federation.
Public lands have always played a central role in my life. I grew up hunting turkey, deer, elk, antelope and waterfowl all across America’s public lands. My passion for hunting is not only because I get to fill my freezer with organic meat but the time I get to spend with my friends and family quietly taking in the wonders of the wildlife landscapes around us. Hunting provides me with a chance to reset and focus on what matters most. As I return from my latest hunting trip in New Mexico, I have been reflecting on both the beauty of the wildlife that surrounded me, as well as the myriad of outdoor enthusiasts who join me in appreciating all that our public lands have to offer.
In a typical year, Nevada’s public lands will draw in over $12.6 billion from outdoor recreation activities such as climbing, biking, hiking, hunting and fishing, and these lands support more than 87,000 direct jobs for Nevadans. Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, public lands are providing a much-needed escape and place of serenity — drawing in more visitors and helping our economy to stay afloat.
Unfortunately, the future of our public lands is being put in jeopardy by our nation’s outdated oil and gas leasing system. Right now, the Bureau of Land Management and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt are exploiting our broken system to allow oil and gas companies to lease our public lands — including many parcels that have little to no potential for development — for pennies on the dollar. Allowing oil and gas CEOs to hoard land with low or no actual potential for development wastes taxpayer resources, ties up our land from being used for other revenue generating activities and harms critical wildlife habitat in the process.
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Furthermore, through a process known as noncompetitive leasing, millions of acres of public land across the West are being leased for just $2 per acre. This may be nothing to oil and gas companies, but it is a great loss for outdoor enthusiasts everywhere. Under the current administration, 2.3 million acres of public lands in Nevada — an area slightly larger than Yellowstone National Park — have been made available for noncompetitive leasing. And in the last decade alone, 70 percent of all acres leased in Nevada were offered noncompetitively, for as low as just $1.50 per acre. To make matters even worse, many of these lease sales were in critical mule deer migration corridors and sage grouse habitat.
BLM has a mandate to “to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of public lands for the