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“Great Outdoor Giveaway” Poses Threat to $1.8 Billion Economic Engine in NV

July 29, 2011

LAS VEGAS - A proposal in Congress to open up 5 million acres of public lands in Nevada to development - and 60 million acres nationwide - is drawing fire from those who say it's a move that would damage the growing outdoor recreation industry. They're calling it a "Great Outdoors Giveaway."

Outdoor recreation is booming, outpacing the national economy and helping states like Nevada pull out of the recession by creating thousands of jobs, according to Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association. He says the proposal to remove federal environmental protections from millions of acres of public land in Nevada threatens the $1.8 billion his industry pours into the Silver State annually.

"These dollars go directly into the local economy, and are dependent on a wide variety and the full spectrum of public lands in the State of Nevada."

Those in favor of the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (HR 1581) say the government has tied up land and resources that could otherwise be used to create jobs. Hugelmeyer says that claim ignores his group's research, including the 20,000 Nevada jobs supported by the recreation industry.

He says the Nevada land affected by the legislation includes 3 million acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and almost 2 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), including prime recreation spots.

"You would see great areas in the state like Spring Mountain Range — a very popular hiking location and backcountry skiing, and it's got world-class rock climbing — all of the protections would be removed in one fell swoop in this area."

Hugelmeyer is also concerned that the legislation would block protection for such places as Virgin Peak in Clark County, Buffalo Hills in Washoe and the Badlands Wilderness Study Area in Elko.

"What we want to do is make sure that outdoor recreation — which provides great quality of life, ensures clear water, clean air, health forests — our interests should be balanced with the extractive industries. And we are often overlooked."

He testified this week about the bill before the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands. Public comment continues into next week.

Mike Clifford/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NV