Desatoya Mountains Wilderness

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Status:Green trees in the Desatoya Mountains Wilderness Study Area.

Year Designated:2022
Act or Law:National Defense and Authorization Act 2023 (December 2?, 2022)
Acres: 40,303 
County Regions: Churchill (32,537 acres); Lander (6,386 acres)


Managing Agency: Bureau of Land Management
Local District: Carson City Field OfficeRainbow over the Desatoya Mountains Wilderness Study Area.
Contact Info: (775) 885-6000
5665 Morgan Mill Road  Carson City, NV89701
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Area Description

The Desatoya Mountains Wilderness is rugged with many peaks and ridges rising above 9,000 feet. Deep-cut canyons on the west side contain fascinating rock formations and riparian communities. East of the ridgeline the terrain is more rolling with many drainages.

The Desatoya Mountains Wilderness is part of the traditional homeland and cultural landscape of the Nuumu and Newe People, who have been have lived in the area for countless generations.

Elevations range from 5,400 feet adjacent to the valleys to 9,973-foot Desatoya Peak (the highest peak in Churchill County). Outstanding views stretch eastward toward the Shoshone and Toiyabe Ranges and westward to the Clan Alpine, Stillwater and Sierra Nevada Ranges.

Wildlife such as mountain lion, mule deer, gray fox, sage grouse, red-tailed hawk, golden eagle and pika can be seen here. Cutthroat trout are present in Edwards and Smith Creeks; and brook trout are found in Big Dens Creek. Desert bighorn sheep were reintroduced in 1986. Wild horses range throughout the Wilderness.

Scenic canyons, ridges and rock outcrops are present throughout the Wilderness. The Big Dens and Willow Creek areas are well known for their scenic quality. Hiking and camping, hunting and riding, and cross-country skiing are good here. Nearly a dozen intermittent streams and 11 perennial streams water the area. Pinyon-juniper plant community covers roughly 50% of the Wilderness in the lower and middle elevations and in places extend well onto the alluvial fan. Riparian vegetation, including aspen, willow, and several species of berries and wildflowers, is found along the eleven perennial streams in the Wilderness as well as along several intermittent stream channels. Isolated stands of mountain mahogany can be found in the upper elevations, particularly on the west side. The main ridge is vegetated by grasses and low growing shrub species such as low sage.

The Cold Springs Pony Express station (1860-61) is located just outside the Wilderness. An Overland Stage station ruins is found on the Edwards Creek boundary road. Woodcarvings made by Basque sheepherders on aspen trees during the early 1900s can still be seen in some drainages. Lithic scatters, evidence of early native inhabitants, are present on many small knolls throughout the area. Fifteen aboriginal and four historic sites have been identified

Click on the Arrow Buttons or the image below to visit the Desatoya Mountains Gallery:Desatoya_PetersonK_NHT2_69

Conservation History:

The 1979 BLM Initial Inventory report recommended that 76,800 acres of the Desatoya Mountains (Unit NV-030-110/NV-060-288) be intensively inventoried. As a result of the 1980 Intensive Inventory, 48,150 acres of the Desatoya Mountains were recommended for Wilderness Study Area status.  The 1983 Lahontan Wilderness Technical Report recalculated the size of the Desatoya Mountains WSA as 51,262 acres. Public comments on the WSA decision for the Desatoya Mountains were made during the 1984 Draft Lahontan Resource Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement hearings and comment periods. In total, 34 written and oral comments were received, 29 supporting Wilderness for the Desatoya Mountains, 5 opposed to Wilderness. The Governor of Nevada's consistency review supported Wilderness for the Desatoya Mountains.  The Churchill County Commissioners recognized the wilderness merits of the Desatoya Mountains, but recommended non-wilderness for the area. Lander County Commissioners adopted a resolution generally opposing any wilderness designations in the county. The Final Environmental Impact Statement Wilderness Recommendations for the Lahontan Resource Area were completed and made available to the public in August 1987, it recommended 43,180 acres of the Desatoya Mountains for wilderness designation and 8,222 acres of the WSA would be released for uses other than wilderness.

In 2018 Navy 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 assault 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 Desatoya Mountains WSA was one of the areas evaluated, as it is one of the premier WSAs in the State of Nevada.  Working with coalition members, FNW help draft boundaries that addressed conflicts and issues with stakeholders. The boundaries of the WSA were trimmed to where the proposal for Desatoya Mountains Wilderness was reduced slightly in the 2023 NDAA to a total of 40,303 acres.  Learn more about the campaign and NDAA bill here.