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Test range expansion would total more than 300K acres

The Air Force is seeking to expand the use of the Nevada Test and Training Range by more than 300,000 acres of public land, a plan that is raising concerns in the conservationist community.

“The Air Force published a Federal Register notice on August 25 stating that it would conduct the (Environmental Impact Study) on both renewing the existing public land withdrawal, which covers approximately 2.9 million acres, and the withdrawal and reservation for military use of another 301,507 acres of public land to expand the existing range,” the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said in announcing the plans via news release.

But “outdoor advocates are sounding the alarm” about the plan that would add to the test range, which currently covers more than 2.9 million acres in Clark, Lincoln and Nye counties, the Las Vegas-Review Journal newspaper reported Sept. 14.

Roughly 227,000 acres of the proposed expansion could restrict public access to several popular spots in the remote heart of Desert National Wildlife Refuge and a hiking trail to Hidden Forest Cabin, a century-old log structure that may have harbored Prohibition-era bootleggers, the newspaper said.

Reaction to the plan

“I’m kind of astounded,” John Hiatt, an avid hiker and longtime conservationist told the Review-Journal. “This is some of the most pristine land in Southern Nevada in terms of human impact. This would completely change that area forever.”

In a separate interview with the Tonopah Times-Bonanza &Goldfield News, Hiatt detailed some of those concerns.

“I think it’s pretty significant,” Hiatt said. “If the option is adopted that basically takes the 227,000 acres on the east side of the area of the refuge that the military now controls, if they take that, that will eventually cut off public access to the west of the Sheep Range.”

“That is where most of the public activity on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge takes place,” Hiatt added.

What’s next

A Sept. 18 Review-Journal editorial pinpointed much of the proposed expansion to a rural corridor running west of U.S. Highway 93 and north of Las Vegas. Before the test range can be expanded, an environmental study is needed. In addition, public hearings are planned for Beatty, Tonopah, Caliente, Alamo and North Las Vegas.

“Based on the environmental analysis, the Secretary of the Interior will make a recommendation to Congress” on the proposal, the BLM’s statement said of the process. “However, Congress, not the Secretary, will make the final decision on both the requested extension and proposed expansion.”

The Air Force also seeks to extend use of the existing test range. The current arrangement expires in 2021.

A closer look

In announcing the Air Force’s request Sept. 1, the BLM also reports that:

■ The Air Force expansion would also overlap a designated energy transmission corridor in two locations (Beatty and near Tule Springs National Monument), the current Vegas to Reno off-highway race course and proposed mountain bike and hiking trails in the Beatty area.

■ The BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Nevada Department of Wildlife will take part in preparation of the environmental analysis.

■ The Air Force will consider existing uses of the expansion area.

■ Of the 301,507 additional acres the Air Force is seeking, about 266,000 acres are managed for desert bighorn sheep by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.

“The Nevada Test and Training Range already includes much of this refuge’s land,” the BLM statement said. “More than 35,000 acres of the expansion area are managed by the BLM.”

Contact reporter David Jacobs at djacobs@tonopahtimes.com

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