08:14 PM

For Immediate Release

Air Force Finalizes Dangerous Anti-Wildlife Proposal to Take Over Desert Refuge

The U.S. Air Force has issued a final legislative environmental impact statement proposing to expand military use and control over more than two-thirds of Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. The military’s preferred management scenario – to the detriment of wildlife, habitat and public use of this unique and vital landscape – would dispense with the current co-management agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and give the Air Force primary jurisdiction over refuge lands. Tens of thousands of Americans, including tribes, sporting, recreation, and conservation organizations opposed expansion in comments submitted on the plan.

Jenny Keatinge, Senior Federal Lands Policy Analyst, Defenders of Wildlife issued the following statement:

“The military’s proposal to take over more than a million acres of Desert National Wildlife Refuge would threaten bighorn sheep and desert tortoise, among other imperiled wildlife. These public lands were specifically designated for wildlife conservation and should not become a battleground for war games, combat exercises and other incompatible and destructive activities.

“The Air Force should listen to the tens of thousands of Americans who oppose this attempt to seize control of Desert Refuge and continue the current collaborative approach to managing the refuge that balances wildlife conservation, cultural resource protection and military use of these public lands.”


  • The final legislative environmental impact statement released today is a required step for congressional approval to renew the withdrawal of public lands that comprise the Nevada Test and Training Range, an approximately three million-acre military training area that overlaps part of the refuge
  • Although the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) already encompasses nearly 3 million acres of land where there is ample opportunity for military testing and training, the Air Force is still pursuing primary control over more than two-thirds of Desert Refuge.
  • The Air Force’s proposal would void current wildlife management prescriptions, prevent wilderness designation, waive environmental safeguards and strip the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of its authority to conserve species on some of the most important habitat in the refuge.
  • Congressional approval of the military’s proposed action would prioritize war training on the majority of Desert Refuge, opening more than 1.1 million acres of habitat to combat exercises and other activities harmful to wildlife and deleterious to recreation and public access to the refuge. Not only would the Air Force assume control of approximately 800,000 acres of refuge lands it currently co-manages with FWS, but it also seeks to add nearly 300,000 additional acres in the refuge to the NTTR.
  • Ceding management authority of more than two-thirds of the largest refuge in the continental United States to the military is unnecessary and sets a dangerous precedent for national wildlife refuges and other public lands across the country.
  • Encompassing six mountain ranges and nearly 1.6 million acres in Nevada, Desert National Wildlife Refuge provides high-quality, intact habitat for desert bighorn sheep, threatened desert tortoise, golden eagle, mule deer, mountain lion and other wildlife that depend on Great Basin and Mojave Desert ecosystems. The refuge supports 320 bird species, 53 mammal species, 35 reptile species, and four amphibian species and is almost entirely proposed wilderness.
  • Desert Refuge was established in 1936 with a focus on protecting desert bighorn sheep. Desert bighorn need large mountain ranges and vast expanses to thrive. They are extremely sensitive to human activity. The refuge provides protection and solitude they require. The desert bighorn is an iconic wildlife species treasured by Nevadans, with its image emblazoned on the Nevada driver’s license.
  • Desert Refuge lies within the ancestral homeland of local Native American tribes. The refuge preserves tribal history and cultural relics dating back thousands of years. It also offers myriad recreational opportunities, including camping, hiking and wildlife viewing.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.