The History of our Wild Washoe Work


Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge proposed Wilderness Area - photo by D. Mccullough

Save the Desert National Wildlife Refuge!

And the Fight Continues...

Well, 2023 came and went and despite good legislation being introduced to protect Wilderness on the refuge the National Defense Authorization at the end of 2023 did not include it. But the good news is it also doesn't include any military takeover of the public portion of the Refuge and only a slight increase of military activity in the joint use (non-public) area. The Air Force would also be required to sign a much-overdue agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding management of the joint use area. 

Of course, we're disappointed that despite the heroic efforts by several members of our delegation, the designation won't move forward this year. We are incredibly grateful to Senators Cortez Masto and Rosen and Congressman Steven Horsford and Congresswomen Lee and Titus for introducing and co-sponsoring the designation language. Unfortunately, they faced political headwinds that prevented their proposals from moving forward. (Read more below about actions by our delegation members.)

The other good news is that all of our hard work - partnering with national conservation groups, creating and sharing maps, educating Congressional staff, drafting language and other efforts - will pay off in the near future when we anticipate the Air Force will again ask for an unacceptable level of damaging training activity in the joint use area.  

So, as always, we will continue the fight. We remain committed to securing permanent protection for the Refuge and maintaining all public access. And, as always, we'll need your help. 

So watch this space!

2023 background:

Congressman Horsford introduces House bill designating wilderness in Desert Refuge

On November 7, Congressman Steven Horsford introduced a bill in the House mirroring the proposals introduced two weeks ago by Senators Cortez Masto and Rosen. The bill would designate more than 700,000 acres of the east Desert National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness, protecting it from a military takeover and keeping it open to the public. The bill would also allow limited expansion of military activity in the joint use area of the Refuge to the west. Friends has provided technical support to our Congressional delegation and we thank them for their commitment to protecting the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.  

Read Congressman Horsford's press release here and see more information below. 

Wilderness designation for the Desert National Wildlife Refuge introduced in Congress 

On October 25, 2023 Senators Cortez Masto and Rosen co-sponsored legislation that if enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act would provide Wilderness protection for the public side (east side) of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. The bill, known as the ‘‘Promoting National Security and Preserving Access to Public Land in Southern Nevada Act of 2023’’ would designate 736,188 acres as the Southern Paiute Wilderness while allowing the Air Force to place 15 threat emitters needed for national security along roads in the closed to the public portion of the Desert Refuge.

Senators Cortez Masto and Rosen's Press Release on Desert Refuge

Nevada Indy Article on Military and Desert Refuge

Earlier this summer, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2670, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024, with an amendment from Representative Amodei that would allow the Air Force to do emergency response, road maintenance, and construct and utilize 15 threat emitter pads in the joint use area of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. Alas, there was no conservation mitigation in this version.

The Senate passed their version of the NDAA on July 18, 2023 with no language for the Desert Refuge/NTTR. However there is now the senate bill introduced on October 25 with optional language that could be used for final resolution in the conference committee later this year. Friends of Nevada Wilderness is working hard with a broad coalition to ensure that the military’s proposal for increased activities is balanced with conservation for the Desert Refuge. Stay tuned to learn how you can be involved.

Ill-conceived project threatens Gerlach & Wild Washoe


On April 11, The Washoe County Commission voted 3-2 to deny Ormat a permit for exploratory drilling.

Friends of Nevada Wilderness has signed on to a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management Winnemucca District for allowing Ormat Technologies, Inc. to proceed with drilling 13 exploratory geothermal wells adjacent to the town of Gerlach.

The Burning Man Project is the lead plaintiff in the case filed in Nevada federal court. The plaintiffs argue that BLM illegally gave Ormat the green light for exploratory drilling without analyzing the full impacts of development of a large-scale geothermal plant adjacent to the town.

“We all know that Ormat wants to build a full-scale plant, which is ill-conceived at that location to begin with,” said Shaaron Netherton, Friends’ Executive Director. “The fact that BLM conducted such a superficial analysis of Ormat’s plans for exploratory drilling is such bad precedent, we felt we had no option but to join the action.”

The suit alleges BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not properly analyzing the impacts of the final project, which Ormat has previously described as two new power plants, each producing 24 megawatts of electricity per hour, as well as an electrical substation, up to 23 geothermal production and injection wells, 4.6 miles of above-ground pipelines, access roads and a 26-mile overhead power line running from the power plants to the North Valley Substation in the San Emidio Desert.

“Gerlach is an iconic town in Nevada,” Netherton added. “The history of the area, the amazing wide-open spaces, the dark skies, the peace and quiet – they all mean so much not just to the people who live there but to many more people who come from all over to recreate there. These drilling wells alone will change the landscape, but construction of a large-scale geothermal plant would be disastrous. We support development of alternative energy, but not at the expense of an entire community and a beloved landscape.”

New Wilderness and Conservation in the NDAA


The Navy has been trying for more than 20 years to expand the Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) at the Fallon Naval Air Station in Churchill and neighboring counties. Those efforts were resisted by you, the conservation community, because of the Navy’s indifference to mitigating the environmental impacts of expanding its bombing range and other facilities. As time went on 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.  Over the last several months however, the Navy’s efforts gained momentum in the U.S. Congress and with the Biden Administration. Now it appears that the expansion will be signed into law by the end of December 2022.

When the expansion became inevitable, we shifted our focus to make sure any expansion is adequately mitigated with extensive new conservation measures. Our delegation worked hard with input from Churchill County, the Walker River Paiute Tribe, Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and many other stakeholders. We fought hard for more conservation until the last minute. While it pains us to see any military expansion, given the political realities, we came to appreciate that this National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will also designate more than 180,000 acres of new Wilderness Areas, preserve wildlife habitat, protect lands with wilderness qualities and, very importantly, protect the ancient sacred lands of Indigenous people. On December 6th the NDAA language was released and on December 8th the House voted 350-80 to approve the bill. The Senate voted to pass the NDAA on December 15th, 83-11.

H.R.7776 - James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (117th Congress) was signed into law by President Biden on December 23, 2022.


As a result of the NDAA, Nevada will get its first new Wilderness since 2014. Here are the conservation measures we expect to see signed into law soon.

New Wilderness Areas

Clan Alpine Mountains  128,362 acres  (Churchill County)       

Desatoya Mountains      40,303 acres  (Churchill County 32,537 and Lander County 7,766)

Cain Mountain               14,050 acres  (Churchill County 7,664 and Lander County 6,386)

  Total Wilderness      182,715 acres
Churchill County map
Lander County map

New National Conservation Areas

Numunaa Nobe National Conservation Area (much of the former Stillwater and Jobs Peak WSA and lands around the Grimes Point Recreation Area) for 160,224 acres.

Pistone- Black Mountain National Conservation Area  3,415 acres

New Special Management Areas

Numu Newe Special Management Area (for cultural resources)  217,845 acres

Special Protection Area

Monte Cristo Mountains Protection Area (an area very important to local Indigenous communities) 17,688 acres located in the expanded B-17 Bombing Range. Navy must not bomb this area and any ordinance or debris from bombing exercises that lands there must be removed within 45 days.


Burbank Canyons

Burbank_Canyons_1.jpgBurbank Canyons is a beautiful little 13,395-acre area in Douglas County with perennial streams, aspen groves, great hiking, and excellent solitude. Raptors, mule deer, bear, mountain lion, sage grouse, and various bird species live here. Wilderness designation will give it permanent protection.

Its protection has been included in various versions of the Douglas County Public lands bill over the past decade. Currently it is included as part of HR 5243, the Northern Nevada Economic Development, Conservation and Military Modernization Act of 2021, introduced by Congressman Amodei 9/14/21. We hope to see this beautiful area get permanent protection in 2022.

Nye Country - the Heart of the Great Basin

Once again, our tried-and-true strategy to listen to stakeholders’ concerns, negotiate in good faith, assist in seeking out common-sense solutions and just plain hang in there, has resulted in a local agreement to designate almost 427,000 acres of new Wilderness Area in Nye County. We’re also very excited that local officials have agreed to what we’re calling the 216,000 acre Lunar Starlight National Conservation Area, a historic effort to preserve a truly unique Western landscape.

We will look to Senator Rosen and Congressman Horsford and their staff to condense all of this hard work into federal legislation that we fervently hope will come to pass. Nye County is home to some of the crown jewels of wild lands and we are cautiously optimistic that Nye could become the wild heart of the Great Basin.

Pershing County Public Lands Bill

PershingCounty_ReconMarch16_kkuznicki_8099_copy.jpgFriends of Nevada Wilderness has been proud to work with members of the Nevada delegation, the Pershing County Commission and many stakeholders to advance a comprehensive lands bill for Pershing County that aims to conserve important areas as wilderness and provide economic development for the County. Passage of this bill will ensure the permanent protection of 136,072 acres of Wilderness, while also providing tools to help resolve the checkerboard land issue. Several versions of the bill have been introduced into Congress over the last 5 years and we are hopeful that 2022 will be the year this important bill passes.

Read more about the beautiful areas that would be protected.




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