Sunday, May 20th, marks 82 years since Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the then Desert Game Range protecting 2.25 million acres of unique desert habitat just 25 miles north of Las Vegas. This stamped out a home for not only the desert bighorn but over 800 species of plants and animals who reside within the Refuge. Now called the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, it is still the largest roadless area in Nevada and the largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states. Yet today, more than ever, access to the Desert Refuge is being threatened and could be lost if we don’t take action.
Over the years, the size of the Refuge has been reduced by conceding land to the 2.9 million-acre Nevada Test and Training range. This process has now reached a critical point. The next ask from the military is for 300,000 more acres and permanent jurisdiction over all lands withdrawn from the Desert Refuge. This would mean a loss of 1.3 million acres of Proposed Wilderness and loss of access by thousands of public land owners like me and you. Within the Refuge’s borders is a desert oasis teeming with life and biodiversity. Birders are drawn to Corn Creek, and other areas, to catch a glimpse of the more than 320 bird species who make their way to the Refuge. The Desert Refuge is quite simply an avian lover’s paradise. We can only hope the military begins to understand the value of this unique desert ecosystem. The Desert is for life, not bombing exercises.
The majestic desert bighorn sheep, our state animal, call the six mountain ranges of the Desert Refuge home. The Greater Sheep Range Proposed Wilderness houses some of the densest populations of bighorn sheep in Nevada. Hike up to Hayford Peak or take Mormon Well road on a dusty trail adventure and you are sure to see bighorn and other wildlife. In fact, more than 50 mammals call the Desert National Wildlife Refuge home. Increased military expansion fences off these beautiful areas disturbing and fragmenting habitat while creating stress factors for many inhabitants like the desert bighorn and desert tortoise. If the latest military expansion is approved, we will lose access to Alamo road, which will prevent travelers from reaching Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge from Corn Creek. Settlers use of the 72-mile Alamo road to travel from Las Vegas to the town of Alamo, can be tracked back to the 1800s. Slapping a no trespassing sign on such an historic backcountry byway should never be considered, let alone executed.
For thousands of years prior to settler development, the Paiute lived in Southern Nevada and made the desert boundaries of the Refuge home. As a testament to the life they lived in tandem with nature, visitors to the Refuge can stumble upon more than 200 agave roasting pits and 1,000s of petroglyphs. While no one knows the meaning of the beautiful rock art that peppers these cultural sites, the pictures etched on stone tell the story of a people who lived one with the land currently found within the Desert Refuge. There is a rich history living in the Desert Refuge that should not be lost to military interests.
On her birthday, the greatest gift we can give to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge is to pledge to protect her borders. So, as you visit the Desert Refuge, take the time to think about the natural beauty and sense of freedom the open and untrammeled spaces provide to you. Climb the sand dunes, drive your jeep down a dirt road, take a walk around the trails near the visitor center and enjoy your experiences. The Desert Refuge is an incredible place that generations have enjoyed and called home. Without places like the Refuge, our world would feel a little more cramped. And our world would be a little less beautiful. Our duty as the voice of the voiceless is to stand up for public lands like the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. It is up to us, public land owners, to keep the Desert Refuge protected, not just for the next 82 years, but indefinitely.
(Image 1: Bighorn sheep. Photo by Sharon Shaffer, Image 2: Alamo Road. Photo By Jose Witt, Image 3: Petroglyphs. Photo By Jose Witt, Image 4: Fawn Douglas with Protect #DNWR sign. Photo by Shi-Lynn Campbell)