By the Las Vegas Review-Journal Editorial Board, November 12, 2023
One of the most memorable lines in “Oliver Twist” is when he says, “Please, sir, I want some more.” It’s an apt metaphor for when the federal government releases some of the tens of millions of acres it holds in Nevada.
This month, the Bureau of Land Management sold nine parcels of land around the Las Vegas Valley. The winning bidders spent $93.1 million buying just under 590 acres. Around 80 acres were offered for sale but not purchased. Parcels are nominated by local governments, often after someone expresses interest in buying a certain piece of land.
Six hundred acres may be a lot for most individuals to own, but it’s not even a rounding error for the BLM. The federal government controls 60 million of Nevada’s 70.8 million acres. Of that 60 million acres, 47.3 million are managed by the BLM. Those statistics are from the Public Land Statistics 2022 report put out by the BLM and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Think about this. If the BLM sold off 600 acres of Nevada land a year, it would run out of land around the year 80857. If the BLM sold off 600 acres every day, it would take about 216 years for its inventory to run dry. And the federal government would still own more than 12 million acres in Nevada.
It’s not like this in states east of the Rocky Mountains. Texas has almost 172 million acres. The federal government owns 5.5 million acres. The BLM manages just 300,000 of South Dakota’s nearly 50 million acres. In Eastern states, the BLM controls barely any land.
Even compared with other Western states, the BLM’s ownership of Nevada land stands out. The only state where the agency controls more real estate is Alaska, which is around six times bigger than Nevada in terms of land area. Arizona is only slightly bigger than Nevada, and the BLM manages only 12.1 million acres there.
The BLM typically highlights how the money generated by these sales can be spent. One use is buying more land. For federal bureaucrats, more is never enough. Other uses including recreation and restoration. Small percentages of the funds go toward education in Nevada and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. The BLM holds Nevada’s land hostage and then gives us table scraps when it finally decides to sell some of it.
One reason land prices in the Las Vegas Valley are so high is that supply is artificially restricted by so much federal land ownership. Here’s an obvious way to increase housing affordability and put Nevada on a more equal footing with other states. The federal government should dramatically increase its pace of land sales in Nevada, especially in the urban parts of the state.