Press Release

Wins and losses for conservation in defense bill compromise

Nevada's Desert National Wildlife Refuge is the largest in the lower 48.

Nevada's Desert National Wildlife Refuge was first designated as a haven for bighorn sheep.

Sharon Safer

Congress approves defense bill, rejects military takeover of Desert National Wildlife Refuge

The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contains both victories and disappointments on the environmental front. A number of important conservation measures affecting public lands in Washington, Colorado, Arizona and California were stripped from the final agreement. But lawmakers also rejected efforts by the Navy and Air Force for a major expansion of their control of public lands near bases in Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada. The proposal for the Air Force to control over a million acres of Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge was rejected. Paul Spitler, Director of Wilderness Policy at the Wilderness Society issued the following comments on the 2021 NDAA - legislation that has won approval by a joint House-Senate committee.

"We are pleased that Congress strongly rejected efforts by the Air Force and Navy to take over vast tracts of public land, including the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. As important as military readiness is, these lands have far too high ecological, cultural, and recreational values to be turned into bombing ranges. We thank Nevada's Congressional delegation for their leadership in defending Nevada's public lands. Now, Congress must finish the job and ensure that eligible lands within the Desert National Wildlife Refuge are permanently protected as wilderness."

In a loss for conservation advocates, bills that would have protected wilderness and public lands within four western states were removed the final agreement. “It is disappointing that important wilderness and other conservation measures were not included in the final bill,” Spitler said. “This marks a lost opportunity to protect important natural resources in several states. We appreciate the leadership of Congressional champions who pushed for these measures and hope they will be passed as soon as possible.”

On a provision to rename military bases that remains in the bill, Spitler expressed The Wilderness Society’s support. "We applaud the renaming of military bases named for Confederate leaders. America's military bases should not be named for white supremacists who defended slavery and rebelled against the United States.”



The Wilderness Society, founded in 1935, is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. With more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands.