With more people than ever exploring Nevada’s public lands, the impact on the landscape is increasing. This is raising concerns among conservationists and state officials about how best to protect the environment.
Gov. Steve Sisolak signed one on Wednesday Shared Administrator Agreement focuses on expanding outdoor recreational opportunities. The partnership brings together a dozen state and federal agencies — including the Bureau of Land Management, the Nevada Department of Natural Resources, and the Nevada Division of Outdoor Recreation — with the goal of improving equitable and accessible outdoor recreation opportunities in to create all of Nevada .
“I truly believe that protecting and preserving our natural and cultural resources can go hand in hand with enhanced recreational experiences that will boost tourism and economic development,” Sisolak told a crowd of several dozen at Genoa’s Mormon Station State Park before he the agreement signed consent.
“This is an opportunity to live up to our responsibilities [and] our resources for the benefit of all citizens of the state,” said Tony Wasley, director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Wasley said the agreement will formalize communication between agencies to achieve efficient completion of projects and save agencies money in the long run. State and federal agencies are expected to receive an influx of new funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in November.
The signatories hope to promote environmental protection through a coordinated message focused on responsible leisure ethics.
Nevada is one of the fastest growing states in the nation. Demand for outdoor recreation has also increased, and the outdoor recreation industry is estimated to bring in $4 billion annually in Nevada, according to the agreement. Recreation is at an all-time high for visitors and residents. According to Nevada’s Outdoor Recreation and COVID-19 reportover 14 million people visited Nevada’s state parks in 2020. This is an increase from 3.6 million visitors in 2018.
State officials have tried to capitalize on the boom. In 2019, the Nevada Department of Outdoor Recreation was formed and is considered a key stepping stone to the new co-management arrangement. The Conserve Nevada Grant Program, which funds a variety of conservation and recreation projects, was another step in this process.
In 2021, the state legislature passed legislation to develop a stargazing tourism program. Nevada is home to some of the darkest skies in the country, including two Dark Sky Areas designed by the International Dark Sky Association.
The risk of loving Nevada to death
“Programs that focus on environmental education and stewardship are key to providing a quality recreational experience and strengthening Nevada’s economy,” said Colin Robertson, administrator of the Nevada Department of Outdoor Recreation. He stressed the importance of protecting natural and cultural resources at the same time.
With an increased outdoor response, the likelihood of a greater ecological impact increases. Most of the pandemic-related surge in recreation has been concentrated in established outdoor parks, such as Valley of Fire State Park.
Patrick Donnelly, director of the Great Basin for the Center for Biodiversity, says this is pushing more people to explore the remote valleys, gorges and mountains.
“That is my hope [agreement] will focus equally on protecting the environment from outdoor recreation and promoting outdoor recreation,” he added.
Donnelly pointed to a recent campaign by Travel Nevada — a tourism agency that promotes the state — Highlighting a hot spring in central Nevada. He said the hot springs had been heavily visited following the promotion via social media. That recovery harmed an endemic plant species around the hot spring, which he declined to specify out of concern for the ecosystem. He fears this impact could be greater under the shared stewardship agreement.
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen a dramatic acceleration in usage,” Donnolly said. “We need to focus on how to protect our wilderness and our species from the effects… They need to be very careful about what places they advertise.”
Donnolly believes the agreement could be a potential step in the right direction. It could emphasize the need to balance use and impact – something it believes the deal can achieve with proper planning and funding.
Nevada Department of Conservation Director Bradley Crowell said sustainable and responsible recovery is the goal.
“This landmark governance agreement provides a science-based framework to address current and emerging environmental, recreational and societal challenges,” he said.
The deal aims to better educate the public and stop them from loving Nevada to death. Crowell believes it will allow visits without undermining natural resources. As examples, he cited investments in transit around Lake Tahoe to reduce congestion and help improve education about cleaning dogs on public lands.
“It’s really going to help people learn how to recover more safely and sustainably,” said Shaaron Netherton, executive director of Friends of Nevada Wilderness, a statewide nonprofit that has championed public lands and wilderness areas for decades.
One of the outcomes Netherton foresees is the potential for increased funding for conservation organizations. She believes it’s a great opportunity to spread incoming resources more fairly across the state “to really put money where you need it.”
Netherton acknowledged that outdoor recreation is becoming a huge industry. “We should pay more attention and try harder,” she said. The potential for amplified impact and the love-to-death mood reflected by Crowell and Donnelly didn’t escape her. “It is important that people create themselves anew; more people, more impact.”
Outdoor recreation is a multi-billion dollar industry with many components. From the retailers to tour guides to the people recreating all over Nevada.
“Then you have the component of people living for the lifestyle and moving to Nevada,” said Lou Bubala, board member of the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition. “It’s a great place to live, and the idea that state and federal agencies will work together to streamline and find better ways to coordinate is a good thing for both businesses and residents.”