The Navy has been trying for more than 20 years to expand the Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) at the Fallon Naval Air Station in Churchill and neighboring counties. Those efforts were resisted by you, the conservation community, because of the Navy’s indifference to mitigating the environmental impacts of expanding its bombing range and other facilities. As time went on 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. Over the last several months however, the Navy’s efforts gained momentum in the U.S. Congress and with the Biden Administration. Now it appears that the expansion will be signed into law by the end of December 2022.
When the expansion became inevitable, we shifted our focus to make sure any expansion is adequately mitigated with extensive new conservation measures. Our delegation worked hard with input from Churchill County, the Walker River Paiute Tribe, Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and many other stakeholders. We fought hard for more conservation until the last minute. While it pains us to see any military expansion, given the political realities, we came to appreciate that this National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will also designate more than 180,000 acres of new Wilderness Areas, preserve wildlife habitat, protect lands with wilderness qualities and, very importantly, protect the ancient sacred lands of Indigenous people. On December 6th the NDAA language was released and on December 8th the House voted 350-80 to approve the bill. The Senate voted to pass the NDAA on December 15th, 83-11.
H.R.7776 - James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (117th Congress) was signed into law by President Biden on December 23, 2022.
As a result of the NDAA, Nevada will get its first new Wilderness since 2014. Here are the conservation measures we expect to see signed into law soon.
New Wilderness Areas
Clan Alpine Mountains 128,362 acres (Churchill County)
Desatoya Mountains 40,303 acres (Churchill County 32,537 and Lander County 7,766)
Cain Mountain 14,050 acres (Churchill County 7,664 and Lander County 6,386)
New National Conservation Areas
Numunaa Nobe National Conservation Area (much of the former Stillwater and Jobs Peak WSA and lands around the Grimes Point Recreation Area) for 160,224 acres.
Pistone- Black Mountain National Conservation Area 3,415 acres
New Special Management Areas
Numu Newe Special Management Area (for cultural resources) 217,845 acres
Special Protection Area
Monte Cristo Mountains Protection Area (an area very important to local Indigenous communities) 17,688 acres located in the expanded B-17 Bombing Range. Navy must not bomb this area and any ordinance or debris from bombing exercises that lands there must be removed within 45 days.
Wild Places Protected by the NDAA
This 160,224-acre NCA consists of the former Stillwater Range and Jobs Peak WSAs.
It is a colorful area of rolling hills and rugged peaks. Photo by Kurt Kuznicki
The NCA includes a large portion of the Stillwater Range where some of the best scenic values are found in Hare and Mississippi canyons with their colorful geologic formations and rugged terrain. The land is somewhat rolling, with no discernible timber line. The fault scarp on the east side is a result of the 1954 Dixie Valley earthquake. A few wooden buildings are still partially standing at the old mine site in upper White Cloud Canyon. Stacks of cut cord wood intended for use in the smelters at Coppereid, outside the NCA, can still be seen in some of the side canyons north of White Cloud Canyon
The southern end of the NCA exemplifies the rugged and rough terrain of the west.
Photo by Kurt Kuznicki
The southern portion of the NCA was the former Job Peak WSA where elevations range from about 3,600 feet in Dixie Valley to 8,785 feet at the summit of Job Peak (called Fox Mountain by Indigenous peoples), the highest point in the Stillwater Range. The most interesting natural features are the rugged canyons in the northeast portion of the area stretching from Coyote to Little Box Canyon. The eastern part of the NCA is best for hiking and camping due to the scenic canyons. Desert bighorn sheep, once native to the range but eliminated through poaching and diseases transmitted by domestic sheep which grazed the area until the 1940s, were successfully reintroduced into the Job Peak WSA in 1981.
The Clan Alpine Mountains Wilderness is the perfect destination for solitude and adventure.
Photo by Kurt Kuznicki.
The Clan Alpine Mountains Wilderness Area is rugged and mountainous. It includes Mount Augusta, the highest peak in the range, and several smaller peaks. It holds multiple winding, deeply dissected canyons and dozens more unnamed canyons. Hiking and camping, hunting and fishing, cross country skiing are the predominant recreational activities. From atop the Clan Alpine crest, the Sierra Nevada can be seen 100 miles to the west. Visitors are impressed by the rugged aspect of Horse Creek Canyon and the strange rock hoodoos of Deep Canyon. Horse Creek and Cherry Creek support trout fisheries.
The Desatoya Mountains Wilderness waterfalls and aspen groves
Photo by Kirk Peterson.
The Desatoya Mountains Wilderness Area features many peaks and ridges that rise 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. Elevations range from 5,400 to 9,973 feet (Desatoya Peak). 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, Greater 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.
The Cain Mountain Wilderness is the perfect destination for solitude and adventure.
Photo by Kirk Peterson.
The Cain Mountain Wilderness Area straddles a ridge of the Augusta Mountain Range. The altitude ranges from 3,400 to 8,400 feet. The northern part is a landscape of silicic ashflow tuff canyons and drainages. Isolated patches of pinyon-juniper are scattered throughout. The central section encompasses Cain Mountain, a limestone peak which is the highest point of the WA. The mountain is scored in all directions by rugged, deep drainages lined with willow and cottonwood. Favret Canyon is the largest of these. The canyons have fossils and are blocked by intermittent waterfalls, with dense pinyon-juniper stands in the upper reaches. There are unlimited opportunities for hiking and horseback riding in wide meadows, water filled drainages, steep slopes, and tree-covered hill sides. Unique geologic formations offer many exploration options for rock-climbers, rock-hounds, and fossil hunters.
The Fallon Range Training Complex (Some Background posted earlier in 2022)
There’s a long, colorful history to the U.S. military’s takeover of public lands in and around Churchill, Pershing and Nye Counties and the ensuing efforts to expand its already huge foot print in Nevada.
The military’s management of what is known today as the Naval Air Station Fallon (NAAF) began with the establishment of the WWII Army Air Corps airstrip in the early 1940s. The U.S. Navy assumed control in 1943. The present-day bombing ranges and supporting facilities, now known as the Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) were created in 1953. The FRTC includes target areas for both live and inert ordnance release. It is supported logistically by the larger NAAF, commissioned in 1972. Both the FRTC and NAAF have continually expanded in size in the years since.
The FRTC is made up of more than 12,000 square nautical miles of airspace and 232,000 acres of Navy-managed land. But it would be even larger still if the Navy had had its way in more recent history.
There was strong bipartisan support for the Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) expansion based on the Navy’s stated military readiness needs. The Biden Administration, in a six-page Statement of Administration Policy covering all 3,268 pages of last year’s FY22 NDAA (H.R. 4350), devoted an entire paragraph to the Navy’s Fallon expansion proposal, which did not even appear in the bill.
"The Administration urges Congress to adopt DOD’s request to expand the FRTC to provide the area needed to fully accommodate modern military training requirements while upholding Tribal trust responsibilities and responsible management of public lands."
We have heard that the FRTC expansion was a matter of “when,” not “if".
Friends of Nevada Wilderness has been working for years with a broad range of stakeholders on many of the public lands bills that are a part of this amendment, and believe that the conservation provisions in Rep. Amodei’s bill – while not perfect – are good, and that they are unlikely to be matched, let alone improved upon, in a future Republican-controlled Congress.
Both the Walker River Tribe and the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe have very real and significant issues with the Navy’s past, current, and proposed future activities at FRTC. They have been working with the Biden Administration and Nevada’s congressional delegation to address and resolve those concerns. We support those efforts, defer to the Tribes on what is needed, and will support any language that the Tribes believe will resolve their issues. We understand that both Tribes have asked the House of Representatives to adopt the Amodei Amendment, even as they continue to work to improve the legislation. We will continue to support their efforts to improve the legislation further as it moves towards passage.
It’s Public Land, so to speak
Because most of the land currently under the Navy’s management is public land, the Navy must periodically get permission to continue the “withdrawal” of the land from public use for exclusive use (for the most part) by the military. That authorization typically comes after the military prepares an Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the impacts of continuing their operation as is, or expanding and/or changing their operations.
Ultimately, Congress makes the decision to approve any changes as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that is then signed by the President. Withdrawn land for the FRTC is closed to the public for recreational use (with very limited exceptions) and also typically closed to mining and ranching. Withdrawn airspace is closed to private and commercial flights.
History of the Save the Stillwater Campaign
Anticipating the November, 2021, expiration of its most recent 20-year withdrawal authorization, the Navy in 2016 once again started the formal EIS process to gain approval for a massive expansion, a quadrupling of the FRTC. The Navy wanted more than 600,000 additional acres and to close well over half of it to the public.
Once again, Friends became fully engaged because of the Navy’s plan to eliminate wilderness management protection on nearly 75,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) including the Clan Alpine Mountain, Job Peak and Stillwater Range WSAs. Read our comments here.
After several years of public meetings and public comment on the draft EIS, the Navy in early 2020 released their Record of Decision, proving yet again they held very little regard for the public’s concerns. Conservationists, sportsmen and women, recreationists, miners, ranchers, local governments, the State of Nevada, including the State Legislature, and others all voiced serious concerns and outright opposition to the Navy’s final plan for a massive expansion.
As a result, thanks to Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and the entire Nevada Congressional delegation, Congress said NO to the Navy’s proposed expansion in 2020, and the NDAA authorized only the status quo in terms of public land withdrawal for another 25-years. However…
The Senate Armed Serviced Committee issued this language, opening the door for the Navy to try yet again:
The committee recognizes the need for the Navy to effectively train sailors and marines in the most realistic environments. However, the committee believes that there is more work to be done with all relevant stakeholders, including other committees of jurisdiction, the Nevada delegation, tribes, hunters, environmentalists, and others. As such, the committee directs the Navy to reengage and develop a new compromise approach that balances training needs with those of all relevant parties.
In the last few years, the Navy has continued to push hard for its final expansion proposal, dated May, 2022.
There are so many moving parts – the Navy’s insistence on its dire need to expand, the rights of the public who actually own the land the Navy wants, the inherent value of preserving lands with wilderness qualities including priceless wildlife habitat, the sovereign rights of native nations and the preservation of their ancient cultural and spiritual heritage. Mix in the unpredictable political winds that blow incessantly in Washington, DC, and we have a situation for which the resolution remains highly elusive.
But one thing is certain. As indicated above, Friends remained steadfast in our commitment to achieving permanent designations for the WSAs, LWCs, and other lands with high conservation values, and maintaining public access to them. We continued, as we have for 6 years, to spend countless hours working closely with other stakeholders to understand their concerns as well, in order to work towards a common-sense solution.