06:04 PM

For Immediate Release

Air Force Moves to Take Over Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge

CONTACT: Rebecca Bullis, rbullis@defenders.org; (202) 772-0295

WASHINGTON (December 8, 2017) ­– The U.S. Air Force has issued a draft proposal that would 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.

Public comments on the proposal will be accepted until March 8, 2018.

Defenders of Wildlife Vice President for Landscape Conservation Mark Salvo issued the following statement:

“Desert National Wildlife Refuge is for wildlife, not warplanes. The two can exist together, but we must balance our national security with our natural security. At a time when habitat destruction threatens an increasing number of species with extinction, defending the wildlife and wild places that are essential to our natural heritage is also integral to defending our country.

“We hope the Air Force will back away from its heavy-handed attempt to seize control of the Desert Refuge and pursue a more collaborative approach that fairly balances wildlife conservation, cultural resource protection and military use of this vital refuge.”


  • The draft legislative environmental impact statement released today is the first step toward congressional approval required 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.