WASHINGTON — Public lands legislation that would expand testing grounds for Naval Air Station Fallon in central Nevada would also include conservation components and wilderness protections, Rep. Mark Amodei said Thursday.
Still, the sweeping legislation cobbled together with the input of Nevada counties and communities faces opposition from Native American tribes and environmental groups who have called the bill a “public lands giveaway.”
Amodei, a Republican who filed the bill, said there are also critics who complain there is too much conservation protection in the bill.
Amodei said former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., “always used to say any lands bill needs to have a conservation element, and he was right.”
“This is the strongest conservation element in Nevada history,” Amodei told Nevada reporters in a teleconference.
The Northern Nevada Economic Development, Conservation and Military Modernization Act of 2020 would expand military use of lands near the Fallon station, home of the Navy’s elite “Top Gun” fighter weapons school with roughly 3,000 active duty and civilian personnel.
The Navy is seeking the expansion of 600,000 acres to accommodate technologically advanced weapons and to ensure safety during training exercises, Amodei said.
But in addition to expansion of weapons testing areas for Fallon, conservationist groups contend the bill would allow the sale of other public lands near cities that would turn wildlife habitat into subdivisions and industrial centers.
“This bill is a huge public lands giveaway to the military and private developers,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Any modest conservation gains in this bill doesn’t offset the losses to the public and our wildlife of these spectacular public lands,” Donnelly said.
Included in the bill is 317,036 acres of wilderness designation for Northern Nevada, 320,492 acres to be designated a national conservation area and 309,272 acres of land removed from oil and gas leasing.
Components of the bill were drafted by planning and zoning boards, and approved by commissions in several counties near Fallon.
Amodei said issues must still be resolved with area tribes who are currently opposed to the expansion proposal.
The bill is likely to be amended as it moves through the legislative process, Amodei said.
“The cake isn’t baked yet,” Amodei said. “And one of the reasons it isn’t baked yet is because there are still people trying to figure out what the ingredients are.”