Sen. Cortez Masto proposes Wilderness in Desert Refuge

October 27, 2023 - As reported by the Nevada Independent, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has introduced legislation that would expand military use and conservation protections at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR), offering up a compromise that could balance both Air Force and environmentalist priorities in one of the few bills expected to pass in a dysfunctional Congress this year. The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Jacky Rosen. 

Cortez Masto’s legislation lays out a path for the Air Force’s requested expansion of its technology and footprint in southeastern Nevada’s DNWR, the largest wildlife refuge in the continental United States and a critical habitat for desert bighorn sheep. Much of its land overlaps with the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), a part of Nellis Air Force Base used for target practice and aerial combat training.

The Air Force is seeking to install 15 threat emitters that replicate the emissions various adversaries’ air defense systems create, allowing pilots to practice responding to more realistic threats. The threat emitter pads would be installed in the area of the DNWR that the Air Force jointly manages with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, adding new construction within the refuge.

Cortez Masto’s bill would permit the Air Force to expand its footprint in the Mojave Desert via pads for the threat emitters, but also would designate 736,000 acres of the wildlife refuge as wilderness, thereby providing a permanent protection from any development for that area. 

Read the full article.

Desert National Wildlife Refuge - photo by Kirk Peterson

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