In 1980, the 89,372-acre Augusta Mountain Wilderness Study Area (WSA) was identified by the Nevada BLM Wilderness Inventory Process. As earlier as 1983, the Winnemucca District Office of the BLM recommended that the entire 89,372 acres of the Augusta Mountain WSA be dropped from Wilderness recognition, citing immediate mineral and energy conflicts throughout the area. Of the 68 written public comments during the 1983 Winnemucca EIS, 58 of these comments supported wilderness for the Augusta Mountains. Fortunately, the final decisions on whether or not a WSA can become a designated Wilderness lies with Congress and the American people, not with the recommendations of local BLM office staff. For the record, from 1983 to 2023, 40 years after the BLM's prediction for imminent development of the WSA and the surrounding area, no economically feasible developments were ever proposed for the region. The pathway from WSA to formally designated Wilderness, is long and complex. Because the Augusta Mountain WSA sits astride three separtate counties, Churchill, Pershing, and Lander, this pathway has been particularly elusive. Since 2000, the path for conservation legislation in Nevada has focused on county by county land bills, designed to address the needs of the counties, issues and conflicts with public lands, and conservation designations for qualified public lands. In 2015, Pershing County began looking at a countywide land bill. Friends of Nevada Wilderness worked with the county, stakeholders, and the broader conservation community to find lands that would qualify for Wilderness designation. The portion of the Augusta Mountain WSA lying in Pershing County became a high priority area. Working with the coalition, FNW helped identify conflicts with the WSA, especially in the extensive portion of alluvial fans comprising the western portion of the boundary. The recommendation was to pull the proposed Wilderness boundary back to the foothills of the Cain Mountain to exclude the heavily deteriorated rangelands of the alluvial fans along Jersey Valley, with an eye to facilitating intensive environmental restoration in the future. The rechristened Cain Mountian Wilderness proposal in Pershing County includes 12,339 acres of the spectacular mountainous landscape of the Augusta Mountain WSA. As of the end of 2022, the Pershing Lands Bill and the Pershing portion of the Cain Mountain Wilderness are still on hold. See map of proposed Pershing County Cain Mountain Wilderness here.
For nearly 20 years, the US Navy lobbied Congress to expand and in 2018, the Navy doubled-down and announced plans for the Fallon Range Training Complex Modernization, which included seizing and closing over 550,000 acres of American Public lands in Nevada. A broad, diverse coalition of counties, the state, stakeholders, conservationists, and the public jumped into action to oppose such a egregious assualt of public lands. Between 2018 and 2022, the Congress pressed the Navy to work with local stakeholders including the counties, Tribes, State of Nevada, conservationists, land owners and users of public lands. The Navy listened and promptly ignored the input, barely budging from their original proposal for control of over a half-million additional acres of American public lands. In the last months of 2022 however, the Navy’s efforts gained momentum in the U.S. Congress and with the Biden Administration. The coalition changed tactics and focused on wilderness protections for some of the WSAs adjacent to the Fallon expansion. The Augusta Mountain WSA was one of the areas evaluated. Working with coalition members, FNW help draft boundaries that addressed conflicts and issues with stake holders. As in the Pershing County proposal for the Cain Mountain Wilderness, the portions of WSA in Lander and Churchill counties were pushed back to the core of the Augusta to facilitate possibilities for extensive restoration for the deteriorated alluvial fans. A total of 14,050 acres of the Cain Mountain Wilderness, within Churchill and Lander Counties, was designated as a conservation component of the 2023 National Defense Authorization, signed on December 23, 2022. Learn more about the campaign and conservation elements of bill here.