Why is the Air Force trying to take over wildlife refuge land in Nevada?

Joshua tree in immediate foreground, desert landscape in background, Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada

Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada

USFWS Pacific Southwest Region, Flickr

Proposal would threaten Desert National Wildlife Refuge, annex portion for use by Nellis Air Force Base

Belying its plain name, Desert National Wildlife Refuge is a complex sanctuary filled with life. Across more than a million acres, bighorn sheep and hundreds of species of birds inhabit landscape ranging from cactus-dotted scrubland to ponderosa pine forest

Does that sound to you like a good place for military training exercises?  

And yet, the U.S. Air Force is currently trying to take over 300,000 acres of public land in Nevada for exactly that purpose on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.  Officials are accepting public comments on a proposal that would expand the Nevada Test and Training Range, a sprawling 2.9 million-acre training area used for war exercises by Nellis Air Force Base.

Air Force's refuge takeover could harm wildlife, eliminate public access, destroy cultural artifacts 

Concerned officials at Desert National Wildlife Refuge say that the takeover may disturb wildlife, including the bighorn sheep for which the 80-year-old refuge was intended in the first place. If a tract of the refuge is taken over by the Air Force, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would no longer be able to effectively protect and manage the habitat of endangered and threatened species. 

The U.S. Air Force is currently trying to take over 300,000 acres of public land in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.

Just as alarming at a time when an anti-conservation "land takeover" movement is spreading from western states, it will likely cut off public access to some prime outdoor recreation spots in one of the few places near Las Vegas where you can find peace and quiet.  

As if all that isn't bad enough, the refuge contains traces of Native American culture from the Southern Paiutes and others. Petroglyphs, roasting pits and other sites have a lot to teach us about the land's original inhabitants, and handing the area over to the Air Force would risk mismanagement of those precious cultural resources. 

Keep Desert National Wildlife Refuge public and wild 

According to Sen. Harry Reid, a previous and very similar legislative proposal was trying to “fix problems that do not exist.” Even the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which misleadingly criticizes conservationists, has editorialized against such a moveThe bottom line is this: we don't want the Air Force taking over a cherished national wildlife refuge.  

Bighorn sheep captured on motion-sensor camera in the refuge

Bighorn sheep captured on motion-sensor camera in the refuge, which was established specifically to help conserve the species.

Photo by USFWS.

Veterans and service members have often stood together to protect our nation’s history and our treasured wildlands. We can work with them and the military to find solutions for the Nevada Test and Training Range that balance national defense while also conserving wildlife and access for outdoor recreation.