weather icon Overcast

Air Force finalizes plan to take big bite of Nevada wildlife refuge

Updated October 31, 2018 - 9:27 am

Just in time for the recent National Wildlife Refuge Week, the Air Force has unveiled its final plan to block public access to about 277,000 acres of Nevada’s largest refuge, 30 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The final legislative environmental impact statement, now available online, details the expansion of the 2.9 million-acre Nevada Test and Training Range through the carving out of more of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, roughly half of which is already under military control.

The document was posted to the internet Oct. 17, but its release has yet to be formally announced in the Federal Register.

proposal to add public lands to Nellis training range

Air Force officials want the additional land to increase the range’s training capacity and enable more realistic combat exercises featuring the latest military aircraft and enemy countermeasures.

The plan, which requires congressional approval, would add more than 301,000 acres to the secure military proving ground in Clark, Lincoln and Nye counties.

Most of the expansion targets the Sheep Mountains, which were set aside as a wildlife refuge in 1936 to protect desert bighorn sheep.

Environmentalists, hunters, off-road enthusiasts and tribal groups have all come out against the idea, which they say will endanger wildlife, cut off access to public land and hurt rural recreation economies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also raised concerns about the proposal.

Officials from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Air Force did not respond to requests for comment.

On its website, the service declares Oct. 14-20 as National Wildlife Refuge Week to “celebrate the great network of lands and waters that conserves and protects Americans’ precious wildlife heritage.”

Local conservationist Jose Witt said it was adding “insult to injury” for the Air Force to release its final environmental review when it did. Trying to slash the size of the largest refuge in the lower 48 states seems like “kind of an odd way to celebrate,” said Witt, who serves as Southern Nevada director for Friends of Nevada Wilderness, one of several conservation groups that oppose the range expansion.

Witt also wasn’t quite sure what to make of the newly released environmental review.

“This document doesn’t indicate a proposed action, so we’re anxiously waiting to see what that says,” Witt said. “We’re concerned that they are not going to take into account the 32,000 comments they got against the proposal.”

The Air Force is also seeking to extend the military’s hold on all the land previously withdrawn from public use for the test range under a congressional decree last renewed in 1999. At the same time, the Air Force wants sole control of an 846,000-acre portion of the range that already overlaps the refuge and has been off-limits to the public for years.

By gaining sole control of that land and erasing thousands of acres of proposed wilderness there, the Air Force would have the “ready access” it needs to conduct exercises across the southern half of the test and training range.

No new bomb impact areas are planned, but the Air Force wants to build two new runways, one for takeoffs and landings, the other a training “mock-up.”

Witt said he doesn’t expect the Air Force to conduct more public meetings or collect more comments from stakeholders with the release of the final environmental review.

The matter will now be in the hands of Congress, which is expected to take action by 2021, when the current land withdrawal for the test and training range is set to expire.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Tonopah health care provider expands services

Central Nevada Regional Care, a new health care provider in Tonopah, began operations in March and offers walk-in urgent and primary care services seven days a week.

Nevada Health Response releases Phase 2 guidance

Nevada Health Response issued specific guidelines for 16 categories of industries to use as they enter Phase 2 of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s roadmap for reopening the state.

Unemployment claims fall for 4th straight week

Finalized data from the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation show initial claims for unemployment insurance totaled 15,607 for the week ending May 23, down 2,230 claims, or 12.5 percent, compared to last week’s total of 17,837. This is the fourth consecutive week of declines in regular initial claims. Through the week ending May 23, there have been 495,840 initial claims filed in 2020, 474,488 of which have come in the last 11 weeks.

STEVE SEBELIUS: Masks really shouldn’t be political

Although most people agree with the idea of wearing masks in public, they have still become a political symbol in a divided nation.

Nevada Health Response adds testing locator map

As Nevada moves into Phase 2 of its reopening of businesses and social activities statewide, testing for COVID-19 is an important tool for health officials and professionals who are working hard to ensure that anyone who needs a test can get one.

Nye County reopens office, one masked visitor at a time

Nye County announced Monday on its Facebook page that it is, with restrictions, reopening the Planning Department and Building and Safety Division.

Supreme Court rejects California church’s challenge

Chief Justice John Roberts again was the deciding vote Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a California church’s attempt to overturn the state’s coronavirus restrictions on in-person religious services.

U.S. 95 closing for repairs in Nye, Esmeralda counties

The Nevada Department of Transportation is temporarily closing U.S. Highway 95 between the U.S. Route 6 and State Route 360 junctions from 6 a.m. June 3, through 4 p.m. June 17 in Esmeralda and Mineral counties, a closure needed for $2.43 million in federally funded emergency repairs.

Golden announces Pahrump properties will reopen June 4

Golden Entertainment, Inc., announced Friday that Pahrump Nugget Hotel &Casino, Gold Town Casino and Lakeside Casino &RV Park will reopen at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, June 4.

Administration considers resuming nuclear testing

The Trump administration has discussed whether to conduct the first U.S. nuclear test explosion since 1992 in a move that would have far-reaching consequences for relations with other nuclear powers and reverse a decades-long moratorium on such actions, the Washington Post reported Thursday.