Save the Desert National Wildlife Refuge!

The Final Battle for the heart and soul of the Desert Refuge is Underway

BREAKING NEWS On July 1, 2020, the House Armed Services Committee approved H.R. 6395, the National Defense Authorization Act. Section 2845 of the legislation would have disastrous implications for the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, effectively handing control of over 800,000 acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the United States Air Force for military training. There was NO consultation with the Nevada delegation or Congressman Steven Horsford whose District includes the Desert Refuge. Thanks in part to the outrage from people across Nevada the Nevada delegation is fighting back. Representatives sent a joint letter urging House leadership to protect the Desert Refuge. In Daniel Rothberg of the NV Independent's recent article, the representatives voice their displeasure with the amendment and the lack of consultation. The Wilderness Society released an analysis recommending Section 2845 be stricken in its entirety.  

A massive campaign across the nation erupted to Save the Desert Refuge and the media goes wild.  The Nevada delegation engages big time and a new amendment arises (the Horsford Amendment) – this gets rid of the bad parts of the Bishop Amendment and keeps the good pieces. Through a complicated House Rules Committee process on July 17th the Horsford Amendment moved in a package to the House floor and was voted on and passed unanimously on July 20.


On July 9th Gov. Steve Sisolak requested congressional leaders axe the last-minute provision snuck into the defense authorization bill last week, that would give the Air Force the final say over how more than 800,000 acres of protected land are managed at the Desert Refuge. In a letter  addressed to Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Sisolak made it clear that this provision “clearly undermines Nevada’s ability to effectively manage wildlife and natural resources within our state borders.” For more on Sisolak's response, check out this Nevada Independent article by Daniel Rothberg. 

On June 11, 2020 the Senate Armed Services Committee had proposed NO EXPANSION for the Nellis Test and Training Range! Just a status quo renewal of what they have for another 20 years.  It's a great step toward saving the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. 

In April 2020, the Military submitted their legislative proposal to the armed services committees in Congress. If enacted, it would gut the refuge and shut out the public. We must NOT let that happen. We must let the armed services committees know that Nevada and Desert Refuge have given enough to the military. The final decision in Congress will be made this year in the National Defense Authorization Act. Help us save the refuge!

Protection of the Desert Refuge is a giant step closer thanks to you.

On December 19, 2019, Senator Cortez Masto introduced S-3145, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and Nevada Test and Training Range Withdrawal and Management Act, that pushes back hard against the massive military overreach into the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. Friends of Nevada Wilderness has been fighting for the Desert Refuge for the last 5-years. Congressman Horsford introduced the House companion bill and the entire Nevada delegation has signed on. This bill would designate 1.3 million acres of Wilderness (the biggest Wilderness bill ever in Nevada) and stop the military from turning the refuge into a bombing range and destroying precious habitat. The bill would keep the historic Alamo Road open to the public and would prevent the military from taking anymore primary jurisdiction of the refuge.  We are deeply appreciative of Senator Cortez Masto’s leadership and the support from the entire Nevada Delegation. 

This giant step forward is only possible because of all the support we have received from you. The fight will continue into the new year and we still need your support for the final push to protect the bighorn and all the other creatures that call the Desert Refuge home.

With your help we have created awareness with our #dontbombthebighorn social media campaign, taken our elected official and their staff on tours, worked with great photographers to showcase the beauty and importance of the refuge through images, partnered with BackCounty Pictures for the production of the amazing Desert Refuge videos, walked the halls in Washington DC talking to our delegation and key, attended many meetings, reviewed, analyzed and commented on the NTTR EIS, and helped form a large coalition with national regional and local groups all fighting for the refuge.

Link to Delegation Statement

Link to S-3145


Past Actions that made a huge difference protecting the Desert Refuge

Our Nevada Legislators passed Assembly Joint Resolution 2 with nearly unanimous bi-partisan support! This resolution opposes the military expansion into more of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. A special thanks to Assemblywoman Cohen who championed Assembly Joint Resolution 2 and Senator Scheible for Senate Joint Resolution 3. Both resolutions were similar and in the end, leadership decided to move only one of them, AJR 2 to passage.  click here to read final 3-page resolution

Thanks to all the folks who turned out in large numbers to attend the hearings in March. Everyone spoke in favor of the resolutions! The resolutions were quickly and unanimously passed out of the committees.


Save The Desert National Wildlife Refuge Videos

Donate to help Backcountry Pictures produce more webisodes on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.

On October 31, 2018, our Southern Nevada Director, Jose Witt, appears on NPR's State of Nevada expert panel to express how military expansion into the Desert National Wildlife Refuge will impact the public and why it must not be allowed.

Read full article and download the audio on the NPR State of Nevada Website here.

DON'T BOMB THE BIGHORN: The desert bighorn sheep thank you for your outpouring of support for them and for their home in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge!

In total, 32,000 of us sent comments to the Air Force in favor of keeping the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as it stands today! This amazing accomplishment is thanks to people like you. The comment period and public meetings are over, but our work to protect the refuge still has a long way to go. We will continue working with our Nevada Congressional delegation, the media, local elected officials and others to show strong support for permanent protection of the Desert Refuge as Wilderness. "Don't Bomb the Bighorn!"

The Desert National Wildlife Refuge,  just outside the city lights of Las Vegas, is nearly 1.6 million acres and home to one of Nevada’s largest desert bighorn sheep populations. In 1971, about 1.2 million acres of the Desert Refuge were proposed as Wilderness by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Immediately threatened by this round of military expansion is the broader Sheep Range proposed Wilderness (Sheep Range, Las Vegas Range, Gass Peak).

Yucca trees and the Sheep Range

On December 7, 2017, the military released their Legislative Environmental Impact Statement (LEIS) with details on how much more of the refuge and proposed Wilderness they want to take over - it is a LOT!  Hundreds of you turned out to the military's public meetings in January and 32,000 comments went into the military opposing their expansion by the end of the comment period in March. We have been working feverishly to ensure that the word is out about what is happening just north of Las Vegas in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.

The Air Force still wants to withdraw an additional 300,000 acres of the Desert Refuge to add to their monstrous 2.9 million acre Nevada Testing & Training Range! We will need to continue the fight! 

The Final Legislative Environmental Impact Statement (LEIS)  for the proposed expansion of the Nevada Testing and Training Range into the Desert National Wildlife Refuge was officially released October 26, 2018. Since it has been released, a motion for a congressional vote on which alternatives to pass can be introduced at any time! We are determined to put the pressure on our Nevada elected officials to stand up for the Desert Refuge by exercising the status quo alternative which keeps the refuge open for public access. 

If you haven't already, please sign our Save The Desert petition to our Nevada Congressional Delegation.  We're also urging all opponents of this expansion to directly contact your elected representatives.  Let's tell them #DontBombTheBighorn!!

Here are the links to the military proposal:

Final LEIS Documents:

General Website:


Click here to read more about the military's jurisdiction over the Desert Refuge, and what's at stake if they intrude further on refuge lands.


In the 1940's, the military gained joint administration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the western half of the Refuge. This eliminated public access and called any future wilderness designation for that portion of the Refuge into question. Now, the Air Force is looking to seize control of most of what's left of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. This would not only threaten wildlife and indefinitely close public access, it would remove the possibility of future wilderness designation for the area. Most of the Refuge was recommended for Wilderness in the 1970’s by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and it is up to us to make sure these high quality wild lands do not become lost forever! The Air Force is currently seeking public comment. It is critical you voice your concerns and oppose any transfer of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the military.




Originally protected in 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide habitat for the iconic desert bighorn sheep, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge (Desert Refuge) is the largest wildlife refuge in the contiguous United States. Since the Refuge was established, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has managed the Refuge to protect its rich biological diversity and wildlife habitat, maintain the integrity of the recommended wilderness areas, and safeguard invaluable cultural resources. The military already controls millions of acres of land in Nevada and they have unlimited ability to fly over the Refuge for training purposes. We have already sacrificed enough of the Desert Refuge, it is time to make a stand for what remains.


Please stand up for one of our nation’s most precious resources – The Desert National Wildlife Refuge with its large tracts of undisturbed wild lands that provide invaluable habitat for threatened, sensitive, and endangered wildlife species.



At the end of 2016, the Department of Defense released a draft of their proposed alternatives to the current management in their scoping plan. They accepted comments about this scoping document and are using the input they received to release another draft of proposed alternatives to management for the Refuge. Thank you to everyone that submitted comments and who attended public meetings to make their voice heard.

Friends of Nevada Wilderness submitted a comprehensive letter that addressed our concerns on impacts to wildlife, proposed wilderness, and public access to the Department of Defense in regards to the expansion proposal.

Read Friends of Nevada Wilderness' submitted letter here



Air Force Proposal


View the Air Force proposal website here.

About the Desert National Wildlife Refuge

Created in 1936 to provide habitat and protection for desert bighorn sheep, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge is the largest refuge in the contiguous United States. Encompassing six major mountain ranges and nearly 1.6 million acres in Nevada, it provides the highest quality, intact habitat for desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife that depend on Great Basin and Mojave Desert ecosystems. With the exponential growth of Las Vegas over the past decades reaching right up to the refuge boundary, this haven for wildlife is critical.

Last year, Senator Harry Reid and Congressman Joe Heck helped prevent the transfer of more than 800,000 acres of National Wildlife Refuge System lands from becoming bombing ranges to the Air Force. Unfortunately, the latest attack on southern Nevada's wild gem, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge is yet again under attack - this time directly under military request.

Don’t Bomb the Bighorn!


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wilderness Appendix for DNWR

Desert National Wildlife Refuge website

Friends of Nevada Wilderness Expansion Comments

History & Timeline of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge

National Wildlife Refuge Association Petition

PBS Outdoor Nevada episode on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge

Related News Articles:

Desert Companion: By Land and By Air 

Las Vegas Review Journal: Conservationists Sound Alarm Over Air Force Plan (Sept. 15, 2016)

Pentagon to Lawmakers: Let Interior Keep Refuge

One View: Proposed Military Base Expansions Threatens 800k Acres

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