Public, Tribal lands are not for bombing
For now, more acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as well as other public and Tribal lands in Nevada have been spared from military bombing and destruction. The 7,000 members of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club were overjoyed earlier this month to learn that Congress blocked the proposed expansions of the Fallon Naval Air Force Base and the Nevada Test and Training Range.
The values of these landscapes are embedded in their very existence and the inherent benefits they provide — such as recreational access, land and water conservation, Tribal history and culture, and protection of wildlife. In the Congress-approved 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, both military sites received status quo time extensions for the next 25 years, which means they cannot expand their current footprints for bomb testing and other damaging activities that leave irreversible scars on these landscapes.
If these destructive military ranges were expanded, nearly 2 million acres of Tribal ancestral grounds, public lands, recreation areas and wildlife refuges would have been lost. We are grateful Congress denied the military’s request to seize more acreage, but it is now time to advance permanent protections that prioritize Tribal heritage and access, the integrity of these lands and their wild systems, and the preservation of these places for future generations. As Chairman of the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe Len George put it: “We need our homelands to remain public and protected so that we can continue our way of life, our culture, and our religion.”
Thankfully, Nevada’s Congressional Delegation and Congress listened to Nevadans from all walks of life — Tribal Nations, conservation groups, outdoorsmen, Democrats and Republicans who have consistently opposed these proposed expansions. During the NDAA debates, representatives Steven Horsford and Dina Titus introduced and fought for a crucial amendment that safeguarded the Refuge from a transfer in jurisdiction to the military. Transferring that mass amount of land would have effectively destroyed more nature, wildlife habitat and Tribal sites.
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto also has put forward important legislation to protect as much as 1.4 million acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge permanently as wilderness. The passage of the senator’s bill would mark an important next step in improving the management of these lands.
For too long, both the Air Force and Navy have failed to provide meaningful consultation with the Tribes affected by their land use and management, and have neglected stewardship of the landscapes. They have left irreversible scars on irreplaceable Tribal sites, like the Pintwater Cave, through bombing and other activities. Nevadans love and understand the significance of their public lands, and we know the importance of our military and their readiness needs. The military already operates on more than 4 million acres of public lands in our state. However, it seems every time the military requests more space for training and testing that has a history of destructive impact, our state is targeted. Nevada is not a wasteland.
Banning the expansion of the Fallon and Nevada Test and Training Range sites in this year’s NDAA offers us a major reprieve, but we know that both the Air Force and Navy will be back next year — wanting more land and proposing the same or even larger expansions. Again, we urge the Nevada delegation — our champions like Senator Cortez Masto and Reps. Horsford and Titus — to fight these proposals, save our public lands and help us preserve everything these landscapes protect. We are deeply grateful for the work they did this year in protecting our beloved public lands, and believe it is past time to give important landscapes like the Desert National Wildlife Refuge the permanent protection they deserve. We call on Congress to join our effort to save these places for their history, for today, and in perpetuity for future generations.