Lands Project has always kept an eye on Las
Vegas, where in the last decade tens of thousands of
acres of land belonging to you and me
and managed by the Bureau of Land Management have been sold for development.
We have criticized, publicized, and actively opposed the
numerous Acts of Congress that have helped turn the fragile public lands of the
Mojave Desert into an endless subdivision.
Championed mainly by Senator Harry Reid, these bills have allowed our public
land to be auctioned off to feed the Las
Vegas Valley's phenomenal growth.
Clark County's population has doubled to 2 million in the last 15 years, with dramatic consequences. A looming water-supply crisis has spawned a massive pipeline proposal
that could transport the rest of the state's water to Las Vegas; the desert ecosystem is
Now, with an economy based on entertainment and
construction, the area is feeling enormous pain from the recession. In 2009 its
home-foreclosure rate was five times the national average. The unemployment
rate is 13.9 percent.
We have only been able to hope that this harsh reality check
might present an impetus for Las
Vegas to rethink its future.
In that same vein, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of
Nevada (PLAN) and the Sierra Club's Toiyabe Chapter commissioned a study by the
Sonoran Institute, a think tank covering western issues, that assesses the
environmental and socioeconomic problems associated with Las Vegas' "growth-driven economy."
Sustainability in the Las Vegas Valley" (available on the Institute's home page) takes a straightforward look at
several critical issues that must be dealt with at the local, regional, and
national levels if the Las Vegas Valley is to "embrace sustainability." In addition to useful data and recommendations for action, the report provides an eye-opening picture of the actions and attitudes that have made Las Vegas what it is.
For example, a regional planning
authority was created to guide the selection process for
federal lands to be auctioned off, with the aim of preventing sprawl and
"leapfrog" development. Yet most of the land put up for sale has been
far from existing development, reflecting what developers wanted rather
than what made sense.
The report also notes
that, even though population growth has flattened and the public land available
for future sale and development could accommodate 500,000 more people, pressure to expand the boundaries of
the land-disposal area persists.
While these entrenched attitudes
are discouraging, the Institute's report does herald the possibility of
change in Las Vegas. The Western Lands Project will seize
any opportunity we may have to help keep the Las Vegas Valley's
public lands in public hands.