Bullfrog County was a short-lived county in Nevada created by the Nevada Legislature in 1987. It consisted of an uninhabited 144-square-mile area around Yucca Mountain completely enclosed by southern Nye County, the county from which it was created.
Bullfrog” was the name Frank “Shorty” Harris and Ernest “Ed” Cross, the prospectors who started the Bullfrog gold rush, gave to their mine. As quoted by Robert D. McCracken in A History of Beatty, Nevada, Harris said during a 1930 interview for Westways magazine, “The rock was green, almost like turquoise, spotted with big chunks of yellow metal, and looked a lot like the back of a frog.”
The Bullfrog Mining District, the Bullfrog Hills, the town of Bullfrog, and other geographical entities in the region took their name from the Bullfrog Mine. If fact, “Bullfrog” became so popular that Giant Bullfrog, Bullfrog Merger, Bullfrog Apex, Bullfrog Annex, Bullfrog Gold Dollar, Bullfrog Mogul, and most of the district’s other 200 or so mining companies included “Bullfrog” in their names.
Mining in and around the county 1920 consisted mainly of working old tailings until a new mine opened in 1988 on the south side of Ladd Mountain. A company known as Bond Gold built an open-air pit mine and mill at the site, along State Route 374.
LAC Minerals acquired the mine from Bond in 1989 and established an underground mine there in 1991 after a new body of ore called the North Extension was discovered. Barrick Gold acquired LAC Minerals in 1994 and continued to extract and process ore at what became known as the Barrick Bullfrog Mine until the end of 1998.
The name persisted and, decades later, was given to the short-lived Bullfrog County.
Bullfrog County’s 1987 seat was located in Carson City, the state capital, some 270 miles north. The county’s establishment was a response to plans by the federal government to create a disposal site for radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain when the fed’s agreed to provide payment-equal-to taxes funding to Nye County during the characterization and construction of the Yucca Mountain repository.
This money was intended to go straight to the county government bypassing the state government. In response, Nevada Assemblyman Paul May drafted a law declaring the unpopulated area around the proposed nuclear waste site to be a new county, Bullfrog County.
Because this new county had no population, any federal payments for placing the nuclear waste site there would go directly to the state treasury. Furthermore, rates in the county were set at 20 percent, or $5 on every $100 valued, the highest allowable by the state constitution.
This tax was meant to discourage the waste site’s creation by making the tax rate so high that the federal government would balk at paying to use the land for a radioactive waste dump. However, it also guaranteed that, should the site be built anyway, its existence would at least be profitable (at least $25-million) for the state government.
The bill was passed jus’ before 4 in the morning, June 18th, 1987 — near the end of the year’s legislative session — and signed into law by Governor Richard Bryan. The bill stipulated that if the repository was not built in the county, it would be merged back into Nye County
Bullfrog County was the only county in Nevada whose county commissioners and sheriff were not elected. Instead, the law creating the county stipulated that those officials were to be appointed by the governor.
It was not assigned to any of the state’s nine district courts and as such had no district attorney or judiciary.
To date, Bullfrog County is the only county with a population of zero known to have existed in the United States, and except for Shannon and Todd counties in South Dakota, the only organized county whose was not contained within its boundaries. It contained no paved roads, buildings or infrastructure of any kind. The easiest ground access to the county was by way of a dirt road off U.S. Route 95.
More than three-fourths of the county’s land was to the public. Half of it was taken up by the Nellis Air Force Range. The remaining fourth was owned by the Bureau of Land Management but almost no one visited there.
The existence of Bullfrog County had the potential to create serious legal problems for the state of Nevada. The Nevada Constitution requires all criminal trials to take place in the county where the crime occurred, and before a jury of residents of that county
However, since it was not assigned to a judicial district, it had no judiciary or prosecutors. Additionally, if a felony or serious misdemeanor was committed in Bullfrog County, it would have been theoretically impossible to empanel a jury.
For these and other reasons, Nye County sued, claiming the law was unconstitutional. In late October 1987, Nevada Attorney General Brian McKay announced that the state would not defend the law in court, since in his view it was likely unconstitutional.
On February 11, 1988; retired Nevada Supreme Court justice David Zenoff conducted a special hearing and found Bullfrog County to be unconstitutional. In addition to its zero population size, Zenoff found that the provision of the law giving Bryan the power to appoint the commissioners and sheriff ran counter to the democratic process, so state legislature abolished Bullfrog County in 1989, and the territory was absorbed back into Nye County.