Monday, June 10, 2019 | 2 a.m.
To the federal officials who are deciding the fate of a plan to turn a huge portion of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge into a testing range for the U.S, Air Force, here’s a message from Nevada.
We’re not going to shut up and go away. We’re going to fight for our state’s best interests, which don’t include giving up a big chunk of one of our greatest natural treasures so it can be bombed.
It’s no longer just a few voices in the wilderness who are raising concerns about the plan, which would allow the Air Force to expand its Nevada Test and Training range into a 468-square-mile portion of the refuge.
During this year’s legislative session, the Nevada state Senate and Assembly passed nonbinding resolutions opposing the expansion. Tribal groups, off-road enthusiasts and environmental groups have aligned themselves to push back. And during a confirmation hearing last week, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., pressed a Trump administration nominee for the Interior Department to invite Nevadans into the decision-making process.
The nominee, Robert Wallace, opened the door to a discussion, but just a sliver. And at any rate, is there any reason to believe the Trump administration would negotiate anything in good faith?
The answer is no, which is why Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford should be preparing a lawsuit to block the project if Congress and the feds move forward with it.
The 2,031-square-mile refuge, the second-largest in the U.S. outside of Alaska, is home to a remarkably unique and diverse array of wildlife and flora, as well as prime recreation areas. Among its many attributes, it offers some of the best habitat in the world for bighorn sheep and spreads over six mountain ranges.
The military range already covers 4,531 square miles, making it nearly the size of Connecticut, and includes about half of the refuge’s original acreage due to a previous deal. The Air Force contends that the expansion was made necessary by the tactics of modern aerial warfare, in which aircraft fly several times higher than older planes and launch ordnance from up to 12 miles away.
The need for extra training space is understandable, but Nevadans havealready given up much in the name of national security — witness the Cold War-era nuclear bomb testing in Las Vegas’ backyard. To ask that we sacrifice our environment further is too much, especially as Nevada and Southern Utah are becoming prime destinations for outdoor tourism.
Given that a large chunk of the reserve is already occupied and the project would gobble up even more of it, enough’s enough.
The expansion would put wildlife and environmentally sensitive habitat in danger of being destroyed or harmed by live ordnance, or driven off by nonlethal training devices like smoke bombs and flash-bang explosives. It would cut off access for recreational use of the area, and would leave wildlife officials and volunteers without the ability to fill watering stations for bighorn and other animals.
So far, though, Interior and Defense officials have been largely uncommunicative with Nevada on the plan. As Nevada’s concerns have grown louder, they’ve done the equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and humming.
That’s disrespectful at best and hostile at worst. It’s certainly not the behavior of a partner who’s willing to consider what’s best for our state.
Nevadans won’t stand for it. At the very least, we deserve a seat at the table to help determine the fate of this destructive project. And even then, Ford should be ready to head to court at a moment’s notice.