Desert National Wildlife Refuge


Current Protection

National Wildlife Refuge

Management Agency

Jointly managed between U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Air Force

Year Protected

1936 (Executive Order 7373)

Total Area

1,615,000 Acres

At nearly 1.6 million acres, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR) is the largest wildlife refuge outside of Alaska and protects the largest intact habitat for the Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Mojave desert. Initially established as the Desert Game Range in 1936, the military gained a temporary withdrawal and joint administration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of portions of the Refuge during World War II. Unfortunately, continued renewal and ever-escalating expansion of military operations has overtaken nearly half the existing Refuge during the intervening decades. Public access is no longer allowed in western half of the refuge, including the Desert-Pintwater Range, the Spotted Range, portions of the East Desert Range, and portions of the Hole in the Rock. 

In 1971, about 1.4 million acres of the Desert Refuge were proposed as Wilderness by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This did not sit-well with the military, who believed they should have exclusive right to the Refuge.  As late as 2017, the military proposed a draft Legislative Environmental Impact Statement seeking opportunities to 1) transfer all of the Desert Refuge that overlaps with the NTTR to the military, 2) transfer an additional 300k acres of the Desert Refuge that doesn’t already overlap to the military, and/or 3) extend the withdrawal for 50 years or indefinitely.  The public outcry from this proposal has temporarily halted the military attempts to take full command of the desert refuge.  Only through designation of wilderness for the proposed 1.2 million acres of refuge, however, will the perpetual attempts by the military to takeover and dismantle the mission of the Desert Wildlife Refuge be permanently halted.  



The Corn Creek Visitor Center is the best place to learn about the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and to plan you trip. As of January 2023 an access gate was installed on Corn Creek Road. The gate opens at approximately 4:00 a.m. and closes at sunset. Visitors can exit the refuge after sunset by slowly pulling up to the gate to activate the sensor and open the gate. The refuge remains open for backcountry camping.


The Desert National Wildlife Refuge is recognized as traditional lands and an area of cultural importance for Newe (Western Shoshone), Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute), and Nuwuwu (Chemehuevi) people.  

Friends of Nevada Wilderness have been advocating for protection of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge for more than 40 years.  We will continue to support the mission of the Refuge and have backed-up our advocacy with on-going stewardship projects in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Learn about the DNWR Campaign History here. 

Agency Information

Managing Agency: United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

Local District: USFWS Desert National Wildlife Complex

Address: 4701 N. Torrey Pines Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89130

Email: [email protected]

Phone: 702-515-5000