Concern is being sounded by outdoor advocates and sportsmen about the Air Force proposal to add even more land to its already expansive test range west of Lincoln County.
As reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the U.S. Department of Defense is seeking to add an additional 301,507 acres to the Nevada Test and Training Range, which already covers 2.9 million acres in Clark, Lincoln and Nye counties.
The main concern is that 227,000 acres of the proposed land would restrict public access to several frequented spots in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, close off Corn Creek road on the west slope of Sheep Mountain, and, the RJ adds, “close access to Hidden Forest Cabin, a century-old log structure that may have harbored Prohibition-era bootleggers.”
County Commissioner Varlin Higbee says it would have a devastating effect on local sportsman who like to hunt in the Sheep Mountains, “one of the best and only good places to hunt bighorn sheep. There are also deer hunts and bird hunts there, and the only way to that side of the mountain is up Corn Creek.”
The Air Force is in the early stages of studying the potential environmental impacts of the range expansion.
A series of five public comment meetings are scheduled for October. Oct. 12 in Beatty, Oct. 13 in Tonopah, Oct. 18 in Caliente, Oct. 19 in Alamo, and Oct. 20 in North Las Vegas.
Higbee said he intends to be at some of the meetings and voice his objections to the proposal. “We’re going to complain, loud and clear, and tell them no. Lincoln County already is 98.9 percent controlled by the federal government and you’re not locking up any more.”
He said he doesn’t know why the Air Force wants the additional land. “A lot of their dog fights (during the Red Flag exercises) take place right over Alamo and Hiko, Delamar Valley and Hancock Summit anyway, and break the sound barrier. But they are really supposed to be out in Coal Valley and Garden Valley, and yet they end up over us.”
The RJ article noted the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Energy and the Nevada Department of Wildlife are cooperating agencies in the environmental study. However, Christy Smith of the Fish and Wildlife said “cooperation should not be confused with approval…We have concerns about any proposal that that restrict public access to additional portions of the refuge.”
Dan Balduni, Fish and Wildlife spokesman, said they did not know if the planned expansion would have any effect on the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. “We don’t know what all the alternatives look like. We’re concerned, though, and we support the status quo.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Desert Wildlife Refuge in 1936 to protect the desert bighorn sheep and habitat. At 1.6 million acres, it is the nation’s largest refuge outside of Alaska.
At present, the Nevada Test and Training Range encompasses the entire western half of the refuge – 846,000 acres – which extends nearly to the southern edge of the famous Area 51.
The Air Force claims in official press releases the additional acreage is needed for its bi-annual Red Flag air combat exercises and new test missions for the F-35 joint strike fighter.
However, some concerned citizens have openly criticized the Air Force, asking how much land is enough for the military?