A reality check for Las Vegas?
A new report urges changes in the city's trajectory


The Western 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 unraveling.   


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." 


"Growth and 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.