Pahrump Valley Times
August 24, 2011
By Mark Waite

Nye County Commissioners Tuesday voiced support for a major expansion of the Duckwater Indian Reservation in far northeastern Nye County, but urged tribal leaders not to request a county lands bill from Congress.

Virginia Sanchez, tribal chairman of the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, said they are seeking to expand the reservation from 3,850 acres to 235,000 acres, about the size of their grazing allotments.

The tribe met with White House staff, the Nevada Congressional delegation, the governor, state representatives and government agencies like the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Intertribal Council of Nevada, which includes 27 tribal representatives, also was consulted.

“We believe we have developed a proposed reservation boundary expansion that will maximize our economic needs, minimize conflicts with agencies and neighbors and provide a benefit to counties in the expansion,” Sanchez told commissioners.

About half of the proposed expansion would be in Nye County and half in White Pine County, Sanchez said. The tribe’s ancestral, historical area was about 3 million acres, she said.

The tribe is attempting to get the expansion either by an interagency land transfer between the BLM and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or through a tribal legislative package in Congress. County commissioners preferred the interagency transfer.

“We are not in any way subject to a lands bill, no matter who does it because once we open that door then the environmentalists across the country are going to be coming across Nye County with 3 million to 4 million acres of wilderness. We’re not opening that door,” Nye County Commission Chairman Gary Hollis said.

Hollis asked for Nye County natural resources specialist Levi Kryder to ensure there aren’t any mining claims, oil rights or water rights holders impacted in the expansion area.

Commissioner Lorinda Wichman said Nye County has adopted resolutions in the past reiterating its opposition to a county lands bill. Memories are still fresh about another rural Nevada county that adopted a lands bill, only to have environmental groups add amendments to it in Washington.

Wichman also wanted to ensure a county-maintained road through the Duckwater reservation remained under county jurisdiction. The reservation is just northwest of the tiny town of Currant.

The expansion is part of a sustainability plan for the tribe that began several years ago, Sanchez said. The expansion would allow land for improvements to agriculture and exploit other ventures like renewable energy, she said.

“An important part of this whole thing is to provide homes and economic opportunities for the younger generation in Duckwater that we’re losing,” Tribal Manager Patricia Knight said.

That comment struck home with Commissioner Dan Schinhofen.

“What you noted as your most important reason, to bring the younger generation back home, I really like that. I would support that provided we’re not stepping on anybody else’s rights,” Schinhofen said.

Sanchez said the tribe received a grant from the BIA to do a renewable energy assessment. Consultant Maria Raso said the tribe forged a good relationship with the local electrical cooperative, Mt. Wheeler Power.

Tribal officials plan to get on the agenda of the White Pine County Commission in September or October, Sanchez said. They will also seek support from Eureka County, which borders the expansion area.

Nye County Resolution 2011-96 states in order to sustain itself in the coming century, economic development cannot take place on the Duckwater Reservation until the present reservation boundaries are expanded. The tribe spent several years developing its present infrastructure, maximizing housing for its tribal members and authorizing land assignment holdings to farms and ranches.

The resolution states, “The tribe is aware of other permittees within the Duckwater allotment grazing area and the tribe intends to honor the terms and conditions as set forth in their present grazing and related water permits with the Bureau of Land Management and any other permittees.”

Renewable energy projects in the expanded reservation would provide a revenue stream to the tribe that would provide self-sufficiency into the future, providing an opportunity to retain membership and bring the younger generations back home, the resolution states.

Sanchez said she was willing to amend the resolution. Wichman wanted an addition to the resolution supporting a land exchange with the BLM, so congressional action would not be an option.

The tribal leaders will return again to a future county commission meeting, probably in Tonopah, which is still 180 miles from the reservation.