The future of one of the largest wildlife refuges in the United States is now in question.
The Desert National Wildlife Refuge is 1.6 million acres of remote land about an hour drive northwest of Las Vegas. It provides habitat and protection for desert bighorn sheep populations and other wildlife. It's a popular destination for hikers, ATV enthusiasts, hunters and conservationists alike.
“It is a very popular destination for jeepers, people who like to ride different types of ATVs," said Heidi Kyser, writer for Desert Companion magazine, which is published by Nevada Public Radio, "It is a very popular place for hikers who like excluded areas because parts of it can be a little challenging to get to.”
The U.S. Air Force, however, says it needs some of that land to expand its military training operations.
The refuge neighbors, and in one section overlaps, the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), another expansive, 2.9 million acres of restricted land.
In the section of land where the refuge and the training range overlap, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense have dual jurisdiction, Kyser explained.
“What the Air Force is purposing is to take over primary jurisdiction of a large portion of it,” she said.
The Air Force says it needs to upgrade and expand equipment used for bombing exercises.
“They say they’re not going to expand the area that they’re bombing they say that they need more access to land for the installation of ground equipment as well as a couple of airstrips and technology that needs to be placed on the ground,” Kyser said.
The Air Force is holding a series of public comment periods on the various proposals, one of which took place in North Las Vegas this week.
An estimated 200 people representing various interests attended and dozens spoke out against any Air Force takeover of refuge land.
“The opposition says, ‘work within the 2.9 million acres that you have or figure out another way to do it that doesn’t close off public access to these areas,'” she said.
The public comment period ends in March. The Air Force will have a final report finished this fall. The issue then goes to Congress to decide.
Heidi Kyser, staff writer, Desert Companion Magazine