Conservation History of DNWR
The need for protecting the wildlife, habitat, and natural resources of what would become the Desert National Wildlife Refuge began in 1907 with the creation of the Vegas National. This forest included the Sheep Range and the Las Vegas Range. The Vegas National Forest was combined with the Mount Charleston National Forest to become the Moapa National Forest in 1908. In 1915, the Moapa was combined with the Toiyabe National Forest, and was transferred to the Dixie National Forest in 1916. The Sheep and Las Vegas Ranges were eliminated from Forest Service managment in 1918.
“When Thomas Jefferson negotiated the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, there were around two million bighorns in North America. But a ruinous combination of factors—diseases introduced by domestic livestock, habitat loss to agricultural concerns, the fouling of water sources by humans, and excessive hunting—had caused their numbers to decrease to a mere seven hundred animals. Of the four recognized varieties of North American sheep, the desert bighorn was in the greatest peril... Harold Ickes informed the president [Franklin D Roosevelt] in 1936 that these wild sheep had vanished from Washington, Oregon, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and parts of Mexico; their only remaining strongholds were in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. The desert bighorns’ dwindling numbers had also led to social disruption and aberrant behavior within those herds that managed to survive. Queried about what to do, Ickes warned that if the Southwest’s desert bighorns weren’t given huge reserves, they would perish as a North American species. Taking a cue from Theodore Roosevelt’s conservationism, FDR wanted to establish a large-acreage desert bighorn preserve in the Southwest. Senator Key Pittman of Nevada—a leader at the recent Washington wildlife conference—believed that an isolated swath of desert wilderness, just twenty miles north of Las Vegas, would make a mighty preserve for these keen-eyed, surefooted big-game animals. Excerpted from Rightful Heritage: Franklin D Roosevelt and The Land of America by Douglas G. Brinkley.”
Heeding this advice, Franklin D Roosevelt signed Executive Order 7373- Establishing the Desert Game Range in Nevada, on May 20, 1936 with the intention that the land would be "withdrawn from settlement, location, sale, or entry and reserved and set apart for the conservation and development of natural wildlife resources and for the protection and improvement of public grazing lands and natural forage resources" and with further stipulation that the "natural forage resources therein shall be first utilized for the purpose of sustaining in a healthy condition a maximum of one thousand eight hundred (1,800) Nelson's mountain sheep, the primary species and such nonpredatory secondary species in such numbers as may be necessary to maintain a balanced wildlife population, but in no case shall the consumption of forage by the combined population of the wildlife species be allowed to increase the burden of the range dedicated to the primary species."
The initial Desert Game Range did indeed reach the scale of a "huge reserve" as imagined by Harold Ickes in the 1930s. It included nearly the entirety of the current Desert National Wildlife Refuge, most of Mount Charleston (excluding Dixie National Forest managed lands- see Forests in Search of a Name below), and a substantial part of today's Red Rock National Recreation Area. Beginning in the 1950's, substantial portions of the Desert Game Range south of US 95 were whittled away. In 1966 the Desert Game Range was abolished and a much reduced Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR) was establish north of US 95. Approximately 600,000 acres of the southern portion of the Desert Game Range were stripped of primary wildlife management. Also, since World War II, the military has been slowly carving away at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as well. See the DNWR Timeline.
Forests in Search of Names
The forested lands of the high-desert mountains in southern Nevada had along and convoluted path toward finding a place within the US Department of Agriculture National Forest system. The southern part of the Charleston Mountain Range was designated the Mount Charleston Forest Reserve on November 5, 1906. A year later, on December 12, 1907, the Vegas National Forest, comprised the Sheep Mountain Range and the northern part of the Charleston Mountain Range, was established. It. On July 2, 1908, The Vegas National Forest and Mount Charleston Forest Reserve were consolidated to form the Moapa National Forest. The Moapa National Forest lost its standing as a forest in 1915, when it was absorbed by the central Nevada's Toiyabe National Forest as the Moapa Division. Only a year later, on May 10, 1916, the Moapa Division of the Toiyabe National Forest was transferred to the Dixie National Forest. In May of 1916, the Dixie National Forest was reconfigured when much of its lands in Arizona were eliminated from the forest, while the Toiyabe National Forest's Moapa Division was added. In 1918, the area of the Moapa Division was reduced when lands in the Sheep Mountain Range, Las Vegas Range, and much of the northern Charleston Mountain Range were eliminated. In 1937 the Moapa Division of the Dixie National Forest was transferred the scattered of eastern ranges of Nevada, known as the Nevada National Forest. On August 9, 1957, the Nevada National Forest was abolished with the eastern Nevada ranges joining the Humboldt National Forest and the Mount Charleston Division joining the Toiyabe National Forest. Humboldt National Forest and Toiyabe National Forests were administratively joined in 1995. Though managed as a single entity (referred to as the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest), the two forests remain legally and geographically distinct.