US Air Force Seeks to Control 70 Percent of Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

More than 32,000 people have submitted comments opposing a military takeover of most of Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge, the Center for Biological Diversity reported in March, 2018. In order to expand its Nevada Test and Training Range, the US Air Force wants to take control of nearly 70 percent of the 1.6-million-acre refuge. This would give more than two-thirds of the refuge to the United States military and would strip protections for wildlife and restrict public access.

Designated in 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to protect desert bighorn sheep, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge is the largest national wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states. The Mojave Desert tortoise—which suffers from vanishing habitat—is among the many species that inhabit the refuge.

As the Center for Biological Diversity reported, the Air Force’s plans call for industrializing the largely untouched wildlands with dozens of miles of new roads, more than 100 miles of fencing, two air strips, and radio signal emitters.

In January 2018, more than 200 people attended a public meeting in Las Vegas hosted by the Air Force, and everyone who spoke opposed the land seizure. Many of the attendees joined together to chant, “Don’t bomb the bighorn!”

As Tay Wiles reported in a February 2018 High Country News article, loss of access to the land is a “major concern” for the Moapa Band of Paiutes, whose reservation is east of the Refuge. Their ancestral lands span much of southern Nevada, and today members of the Moapa band rely on access to the Refuge for traditional resources, including medicinal herbs and big game. “People say, ‘It’s just desert,’ but it means a lot to us,” Tribal Council Chairman Greg Anderson told High Country News.

The Air Force is required to respond to public comments in a final environmental impact statement, which is expected in Fall of 2018. Congress will decide the fate of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge when it takes action on the Air Force’s final recommendation.

Media coverage of public opposition to the Air Force plan has been almost nonexistent. In December 2017 the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a story on the topic, with a follow-up report in January 2018 that focused on opposition to the plan. The closest thing to a corporate media organization covering the topic was NBC’s Las Vegas-affiliate, KSNV. Its coverage was brief, though it did provide the dates and locations of the Air Force’s public hearings on the proposed plan.


Center for Biological Diversity, “Thousands Oppose Trump Administration’s Attempted Seizure of Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge for Expanded Bombing Range.” March 8, 2018,

Tay Wiles, “The Air Force Wants to Expand into Nevada’s Wild Desert,” High Country News, February 14, 2018,

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