Protect the Mojave Desert from Military Expansion

     by Basin and Range Watch

Mojave Desert Habitat, Sheep Range, Desert National Wildlife Refuge

The US Air Force is proposing to close off 220,000 acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and an additional 80,000 acres of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management to expand and enhance military operations. The Air Force is proposing to increase the acreage of the existing withdrawal area to enhance testing, training and operational security; and will look at options for extending the duration of the existing withdrawal timeframe (20 years, 50 years, or making the military withdrawal permanent until such time as lands are no longer needed for military testing or training).

The deadline for the comments on the Draft Legislative Environmental Impact Statement is Thursday, March 8th, 2018.

Please support Alternative 1 which maintains the Status Quo and allows the Air Force to continue existing operations while maintain existing access.

The Military Land Withdrawal Act of 1999 withdrew about 2.9 million acres of public land for military use at the Air Force Range in southern Nevada–a huge area of desert basins and mountains–and now that the current withdrawal is set to expire on November 6, 2021, the military wants to take more. Congress will have to make the final decision on the withdrawal through legislation.

The proposed expansion areas are in green

The Desert National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1936 and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service primarily to protect desert bighorn sheep. It encompasses 1.6 million acres of prime habitat for bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and other Mojave Desert species, as well as natural communities of Joshua trees, limestone endemic plants, sand dunes, natural desert rock pavement, big galleta-grass washes, and creosote-bursage shrub-lands. The mountains are cloaked in pinyon-juniper woodland with ponderosa pine forest as well. The refuge supports a population of about 600 bighorn sheep.

Desert bighorn sheep

Impacts to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge from the proposed expansion would include:

Disturbance to desert bighorn sheep from increased bombing, over flights, sonic booms, noise and vibrations.

The Air Force would build 115 miles of fence in pristine wilderness in the refuge. Fencing would cut off wildlife connectivity and disturb desert tortoise habitat.

Two large runways would be constructed on undisturbed playas on the refuge. The runways would be 6,000 ft. long and 90 feet wide.

Thirty threat emitters would be built on concrete pads and several miles of new roads will need to be constructed to built these facilities.

 Misfires of increased overflights and bombing will increase the threat of wildfires on the refuge.

Vibrations from bombing and sonic booms will threaten sensitive archeology sites.

Over 200,000 acres of public access would be cut off and nearly 70 miles of the Alamo Road would be closed.

Desert tortoise

Potentially up to 18,000 acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management near Beatty, Nevada would be closed off to create a buffer from potential misfires for Hellfire Drone tests on the base. This would create the following conflicts:

Recreation: The area is very scenic and now home to a network of new mountain bike trails. The trails were built on BLM land by an organization called STORMOV. It would hurt the local economy if the Air Force takes this land away from the public.  The area is being discovered by mountain bikers, hikers, horse-back riders and other recreationists.

Rhyolite cliffs along the Windmill Road in the proposed expansion area

Explosions could contaminate the headwaters of the Amargosa River. Contaminants from explosives could impact the people and wildlife that depend on this watershed. This is the headwaters of the Amargosa River and the region has already been impacted by past nuclear tests.

A large fence would be built around the 18,000 acre base expansion. The fence would impede connectivity for desert bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope.

The fence would also be built right through the habitat for the Amargosa toad, an endemic amphibian found only in the Oasis Valley, Nevada. It has a very small range.

Amargosa toad

Because the existing base is about 2.9 million acres, we would like to request that the Air Force utilize this vast space over taking an additional 300,000 acres.


Below is a sample letter that you can copy and paste.  It should be mailed to the US Air Force official address for  comments. It would help to add a personal message so they will not dismiss your letter as a repeat message.

The US Air Force is proposing to expand the Nevada Test and Training Range over approximately 300,000 more acres of land now managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, in order to increase irregular warfare training, and for buffers for bombing targets in the military ranges (the military already controls almost 3 million acres here already, with no public access). This will close off recreational opportunities to the public, and prevent biologists from managing bighorn sheep in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in the best and most transparent way. Hundreds of miles of fences will be built across the Sheep Range that may hinder wildlife movement and genetic connectivity. Increased bombing, over-lights. Explosions, over-flights and sonic booms will disturb bighorn sheep and other wildlife. More air traffic and bombing will increase the risk of wildfire on the refuge and elsewhere. The increased use of explosions will potentially contaminate watersheds in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and the Amargosa River. More explosions may damage sensitive archeology sites. Close to 200 miles of public access to roads and mountain bike trails would be cutoff. This will hurt local economies.

Public land is also proposed to be withdrawn for military use near the town of Beatty NV, impacting recreation and pronghorn antelope habitat.

The existing base is 2.9 million acres – about the size of the state of Delaware. Please explore an alternative that utilizes the existing land on the base instead of impacting a cutting off access to an additional 300,000 acres of public land.
Please select Alternative 1 which maintains the Status Quo and allows the Air Force to continue existing operations while maintain existing access, and Alternative 4C–a 20-year withdrawal period before the next review. 

For more information, see Friends of Nevada Wilderness and Basin and Range Watch.

And please sign our Petition to Congress asking them to support Alternative One.

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