Nevada lawmakers have passed a resolution opposing the Air Force’s push to expand its bombing range north of Las Vegas.
The Senate gave its final approval to the measure Friday, drawing praise from conservationists who have been fighting plans to add more than 300,000 acres to the Nevada Test and Training Range.
Most of the land — roughly 277,000 acres — would be carved from the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, where the military already controls about 846,000 acres originally set aside to protect bighorn sheep.
“We understand the military’s need for training facilities, but the Air Force already has nearly 3 million acres of land in the area,” Shaaron Netherton, executive director of Friends of Nevada Wilderness, said in a statement Tuesday. “Enough is enough. The public must not be fenced out of this special place.”
The resolution calls on Congress to reject any proposal by the military to cut off public access to more of the wildlife refuge 30 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It also urges federal legislators to work with “all interested parties” to develop a compromise that would allow the Air Force to train without sacrificing more of the refuge.
The test and training range already takes up 2.9 million acres in Clark, Lincoln and Nye counties, but military officials have said they need additional land to conduct more realistic combat simulations using the latest technology.
Defense officials also want Congress to extend — perhaps indefinitely — the military’s hold on the entire test range and give the Air Force sole control of the land it already shares with the refuge. Much of that expanse is protected as wilderness but has been off-limits to the public for years because of its proximity to active bombing areas and other sensitive military training facilities.
Environmentalists, tribal groups, off-road enthusiasts, hunters and state game officials have all come out against the proposed expansion, which they see as a threat to wildlife, cultural heritage, recreation and rural tourism revenue.
“The resolution of opposition from the Nevada Legislature reflects the widespread belief that the Desert National Wildlife Refuge should not be used for intensive military training, including bombing practice,” said Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter Director Brian Beffort. “National defense must be balanced with conservation where possible — and this is that opportunity.”
The resolution drew near-unanimous approval, with just two senators and one assemblyman opposing the measure.
It was sponsored in the Assembly by Lesley Cohen, D-Henderson, Sarah Peters, D-Reno, and Howard Watts, D-Las Vegas and in the Senate by Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, Chris Brooks, D-Las Vegas, James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, and David Parks, D-Las Vegas.
Congress is expected to act on the matter by 2021, when the current land withdrawal for the test and training range is set to expire.