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Nevadans Urge Congress to Reverse Desert Refuge Giveaway

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Nevada's Desert National Wildlife Refuge is home to the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep, and the endangered desert tortoise. (
Nevada's Desert National Wildlife Refuge is home to the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep, and the endangered desert tortoise. (
July 13, 2020

LAS VEGAS -- Backed by a letter from the governor, Nevada conservationists want congressional leaders to strike a surprise provision that was slipped into a recent defense authorization bill giving the Air Force final say over future management of the state's Desert National Wildlife Refuge.

Gov. Steve Sisolak told congressional committee leaders that a last-minute amendment added to the bill should be removed because it "undermines Nevada's ability to effectively manage wildlife and natural resources within the state borders." Russell Kuhlman, executive director with the Nevada Wildlife Federation, said those who love America's public lands feel betrayed.

"Essentially, there's not one group anywhere on the spectrum that is for this amendment that has a stake in Nevada's landscape," Kuhlman said.

The last-minute provision to the bill was introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, without a heads-up to the Nevada delegation. Bishop has long pushed an agenda to transfer ownership of public lands.

The Desert National Wildlife Refuge, the largest refuge in the lower 48 states, was established in the 1930s to protect bighorn sheep.

The Refuge, adjacent to the U.S. Air Force's Nevada Test and Training Range, provides the military with nearly 3 million acres for training. But the Air Force wants more acres of the refuge, despite overwhelming opposition from Nevadans, tribal nations and environmental organizations.

Kuhlman said he believes if the legislation is allowed to stand, the slow dismantling of other protected public lands could be next.

"You can very clearly see the progression of it slowly being taken over into an industrial war zone essentially, piece by piece," he said. "And I think a lot of people here in the state are very frustrated with the process of how that's happening."

The Desert Refuge is home to iconic bighorn sheep, threatened desert tortoises and dozens of species of resident and migratory birds.

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Roz Brown, Public News Service - NV