History of State Lands

When Nevada was given statehood in 1864, it began receiving the usual grants of federal lands that Congress had been donating to incoming states. The lands were to be sold by the state to finance various activities: 500,000 acres for internal improvements (Nevada was able to use this grant for education instead); the 16th and 36th section of every township for public schools; 12,800 acres for public buildings; 12,800 for a prison; 46,080 acres for a state university. Also, in 1866, Congress extended to Nevada the benefits of the Morrill Act, which, to establish a college of agriculture and mechanic arts, gave every state 30,000 acres for each senator and representative in Congress, to be sold; under this formula, Nevada was entitled to 90,000 acres.

To expedite the selection and disposal of the federal land donations, the 1867 Legislature created a State Land Office and made the Surveyor General ex officio the new agency's Registrar. The duties of the Registrar quickly became the Surveyor General's primary workload. 

By 1880 Nevada had chosen most of the lands allowed under the various grants. Sales of the school lands, however, had been slow. Many of the 16th and 36th sections were in areas that were unfit for cultivation or otherwise undesirable. So Nevada, in 1880, negotiated a unique arrangement whereby it relinquished the unsold 16th and 36th sections in return for two million acres to be selected by the state anywhere in Nevada.

The last major piece of congressional land legislation in the nineteenth century was the Carey Act of 1894. The act proposed to grant to each of ten so-called arid states up to one million acres of desert lands, provided that the states agreed to promote and supervise the irrigation, settlement, and cultivation of them. 

In 1925, Nevada and federal legislation provided for the exchange of state land for equal acreage of federal land, to be used by the state for recreational sites, scenic areas, and game refuges. The Recreation and Purposes Act of 1926 allowed all states to effect such exchanges as well as to purchase or lease federal lands for recreational uses.

By 1990 the Division consisted of the following sections: Land Records and Management, Sagebrush Rebellion, Negotiations and Acquisitions, Lands Under Navigable Waters, Rights of Way, Carey Act, SLUPA, and the Tahoe Bond Program. The last named came about after the Nevada voters, in 1986, approved a bond issue to finance the purchase by the state of environmentally sensitive lands in the Lake Tahoe Basin.