Wild Washoe
2019-2020 Update


granites_west1_bbeffort.jpgAfter facing a number of obstacles in 2018 that prevented a successful outcome, Washoe County officials have restarted and rebranded the discussion they hope will lead to introduction of a public lands bill in Congress by mid-2020.

Washoe County led the process and discussion in 2017-2018, but is now partnering on a more equal footing with the cities of Reno and Sparks. What used to be called the Washoe County Economic Development and Conservation Act is now called the Truckee Meadows Public Land Management Act.

Their ambitious timeline, goals, and guidelines for the discussion are outlined in this document provided by Washoe County/Reno/Sparks staff.

Friends of Nevada Wilderness participated in a November 1, 2019, stakeholder meeting with local government staff and other conservation groups. It’s our understanding that similar meetings are being held with other stakeholders such as sportsmen, ranchers, Native American nations, the mining industry, economic development groups, and outdoor recreationists. We will post new information as discussions progress, so please check this page for the latest news.

Friends remains committed to securing permanent wilderness designation or other highly protective designations for hundreds of thousands of acres of the most wild and remote land in northern Washoe County stretching from just north of Pyramid Lake to the Oregon border. 

These public lands, specifically Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) and Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWCs) retain high value as conservation lands:

  • Wildlife habitat and wildlife corridor connectivity – especially for the Greater Sage-Grouse
  • Watershed protection
  • Airshed protection
  • Cultural resource protection
  • Dark Sky protection
  • Dispersed outdoor recreation

As Friends continues in good faith to reach agreement with local government and other stakeholders, we will remain true to several basic principles:

  • Intact ecosystems such as those found in WSAs and LWCs are under constant threat. Only permanent conservation status can preserve the values they provide.
  • WSAs are federally-managed lands owned by the American people. The disposition of these lands can and should be determined only by the people’s elected representatives in Congress. Clearly, Washoe County residents have a voice in the decision-making process, but so do all Americans.
  • Wide open public spaces are unique to the West. Nevada is adorned with relatively undisturbed lands that attract those who seek thrills, solitude, the beauty of a natural landscape, and physical and spiritual renewal. People come to live and play in Nevada because of the access to public lands. As the population grows in Washoe County, so will the demand to access these lands. This is a quality of life issue.
  • WSA designation has preserved these special places. Widespread removal of wilderness protection would dramatically and permanently alter Nevada’s landscape.

Given our history of working on public lands bills over the past 20 years, and with these principles guiding us, Friends will continue to work with the the local governments and other stakeholders in hoping to reach final agreement on conservation protections in Washoe County.

We want to clarify that what Washoe County/Reno and Sparks proposal will likely include two main sections.

One will address what is commonly called the “disposal area.” Refer below to the most recent draft maps produced by the local governments. The disposal area is a broad rectangle stretching from Washoe Lake north to Red Rocks. There are numerous scattered blocks of BLM and Forest Service public lands that are being identified for "disposal". The stakeholder discussion will focus on which of these sections of land should logically be sold or transferred from the BLM for uses such as housing, schools, waste treatment, local parks, etc. We encourage everyone to carefully look at these maps. There should be public meetings later in the year on these disposal proposals.

Federal Land Transfer Requests

Federal Lands Constrained Areas

The other part of the public lands bill will address permanent designation for the more wild and remote lands in northern Washoe County that are WSAs or LWC’s currently managed by the BLM or by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. These lands all lie north of Pyramid Lake and stretch to the Oregon border. They have next to no value for traditional urban or suburban development. However, as WSAs and LWCs, they remain vulnerable to other potential disturbance such as mining, drilling, powerline or pipeline construction, and new roads. Friends will concentrate on preventing the possibility of these types of disturbances on wilderness-quality lands and instead preserving them with permanent conservation designation.

Keep scrolling below to read more details about these special places and how Friends has been fighting for permanent conservation protection.

"Where the Pavement Ends" 
Painting by Reno artist Erik Holland


A Little Background...

As most readers are likely aware, Friends has invested tremendous resources over the last several years in trying to secure permanent conservation protections for Washoe's wild lands. 

Our staff has spent countless hours inventorying these special places and meeting with the folks who are closest to
the land. They include federal land managers, state and federal wildlife officials, hunters, and ranching families who hold grazing permits that were grandfathered in when the WSA's were designated in 1980.

We listened to everyone so we could understand their site-specific concerns, then rolled up our sleeves to find the best practical solutions that were consistent with our guiding principles. We drew and redrew possible wilderness boundary lines, and in the end, settled on a proposed wilderness map that represents substantial compromise on our part. 

Washoe County Wilderness Inventory - This map is a collection of BLM WSAs, BLM Ruby Pipeline Wilderness Inventory Units and lands with Wilderness Characteristics.

Washoe County-wide - This is the preliminary map showing the results of working with stakeholders over the last several years to find Wilderness resolutions that could work for everyone. 

The chart below compares the number of acres of public land currently designated as WSAs to the number of acres Friends is proposing for permanent wilderness designation. 


 Friends of Nevada Wilderness Proposed Wilderness

Washoe County means Reno to many people but most of the county consists of a wild, wide-open landscape seen by few. Here, a volcanic legacy gives us sweeping vistas, expansive sagebrush seas, good populations of pronghorn, mule deer, bighorn sheep and stronghold for the greater sage-grouse.

In this wild region stretching from north of Pyramid Lake to the Oregon Border, the roads are dirt, there is little cell phone coverage. Nature rules. For those looking for breathtaking sunsets, extreme solitude, and primitive recreation galore, the wilds of Washoe are for you.


The proposed Buffalo Hills Wilderness is a complex of wilderness study areas, including Buffalo Hills, Poodle Mountain, Twin Peaks, Skedaddle and Dry Valley Rim WSAs. Protecting this area as wilderness will ensure the wildlife connectivity from Hart Mountain through the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, Wall Canyon Proposed Wilderness, and the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, down through to the Sierra Nevada. Geologically, the Poodle Mountain/Buffalo Hills area was a landscape stretched thin and covered with more than 60 lava flows. Today, the remnants of this volcanic upheaval can be seen as extensive plateaus of basalt lava faulted and eroded into layer-cake walls towering 1500 feet high. Throughout this sweeping complex, benches, canyons, groves, ephemeral lakes and rock outcrops provide varied topography and habitats for wildlife and extensive recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Several high points throughout the complex, including Twin Peaks and Poodle Mountain, provide extensive views of the Smoke Creek Desert to the east and the Black Rock Desert to the west.


The proposed Granite-Banjo Wilderness  provides some of the Black Rock Desert region's highest wilderness values. It is home to an amazing diversity of wildlife, including California bighorn sheep, sage grouse, mule deer, and antelope. These and other species are supported by numerous high-altitude springs and wet upland meadows that harbor lush native grasses, creeks, springs, and ponds that provide essential summer habitat when all lands surrounding the range are parched. Soaring high above the Black Rock and Smoke Creek Playas, the Granite Range served as a beacon for pioneers as well as current day adventurers. Formerly laced with private lands, the Granites narrowly missed becoming a BLM Wilderness Study Area. After a large acquisition completed in 2008, the Granites are now mostly public lands and the BLM has officially recognized the area as having exceptional wilderness values.


The proposed Wall Canyon Wilderness is home to classic canyons, buttes and rims, upland benches and sweeping valley floors. Seven miles of Wall Canyon Creek supports the endemic population of Wall Canyon suckers and speckled dace. This area contains critical habitat for the greater sage grouse with some of the largest and most productive sage-grouse leks in Nevada. Wilderness designation will provide long-term permanent protection for this sagebrush habitat. Other wildlife species thrive in this area including pygmy rabbits, mule deer, pronghorn, a variety of raptors, songbirds and sage-dependent species. In addition, archaeological surveys of the region reveal a highly complex prehistoric settlement pattern.


The proposed Macy Wilderness is found on the northwest boundary of the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. Permanent protection of this area (combined with the proposed Massacre Rim Wilderness area) will play a pivotal role in sustaining wildlife migration corridors, especially for pronghorn antelope. Nestled among the rimrock are juniper trees, many of which are hundreds of years old. Macy's rolling hills, benches, and seasonal lakes provide ample habitat for a variety of wildlife species. Wildlife includes pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mule deer, pygmy rabbits, red-tailed hawks, prairie falcons and other birds.


A vast land with room to roam for hikers, riders and campers, the proposed Massacre Rim Wilderness has scenic vistas of up to 60 miles. Named after a 1,200 foot fault block exposure that stands high above its vegetated talus slopes. Cultural resources reflect 1,000 years of human occupancy in the Massacre Lakes Basin while red-tailed hawks and prairie falcons soar on high. Several small, spring-fed meadows form islands of green in the rocky, shallow soils.Wildlife abound in this area, especially Greater Sage-grouse, pygmy rabbits, pronghorn, horses, golden eagles, songbirds and sage-dependent species.


The proposed Fox Range Wilderness offers hikers and explorers sweeping views of the Smoke Creek Desert to the west and the San Emidio Desert to the east. This range is made up of incredible steep canyons, rolling foothills, and seasonal riparian zones. Hiking and camping, hunting, horse packing, rock climbing and scrambling can be done here. John C. Fremont's 1842-43 route, with Kit Carson as guide, followed the eastern edge of the Wilderness Study Area.

Your Washoe County government...

Residents of Washoe County are represented by one of five Washoe County Commissioners. Our system of government, at all levels, functions best when citizens themselves participate in the decision-making process. Friends encourages you, our concerned supporters, to reach out to your elected representatives to let them know you are paying attention to the issues and care about outcomes. 

Commissioners can be reached by mail at:
1001 E. Ninth St. Building A, Reno, NV 89512

Or by email:

Be sure to tell them you are a constituent in their district and that you vote! Don’t hesitate to give them your address and phone number.

Here are some key points that you might consider when communicating with your elected representatives:

  • You value what remains of our most wild public lands in Washoe County.  They should become permanent Wilderness.
  • They are valuable because they are finite and once spoiled, they are gone forever.
  • They are valuable because outdoor recreation is a big part of what Nevada and Washoe County are all about. Many people can choose where they want to live. Many choose Washoe County because of the wide variety of outdoor activities they can experience here, from motorized off-roading to fishing, hunting, or hiking in the tranquility of a remote wilderness.
  • They are valuable because of the wildlife habitat that could be threatened without wilderness protection. The bighorn sheep, the pronghorn, Sage-Grouse, raptors, songbirds – these are all symbols of our great state.

Not sure who your commissioner is?  Find out here.   

Do you belong to an organization or business that cares about this issue?  If you'd like to schedule a presentation or workshop, we'd be happy to share more information with you!  Contact us at 775-324-7667.

 News Archive

  • December 2017: Washoe County hosted specific stakeholder meetings. Public meetings will be held in early 2018.
  • April 25, 2016: City of Sparks passes resolution in support of comprehensive public lands legislation for Washoe County. Read the resolution here.
  • May 10, 2016: Washoe County Commission adopts resolution in support of comprehensive public lands legislation in order to support economic development,  conservation, and outdoor recreation in Washoe County. Read the resolution here.
  • July 19, 2016: Washoe County School District Board of Trustees passes resolution in support of comprehensive public lands legislation since it would assist the Washoe County School District to make available appropriate federal lands for schools. Read the resolution here.
  • July 27, 2016: City of Reno adopts resolution in support of the City of Reno to participate in discussions related to potential comprehensive federal public lands legislation in order to support economic development, conservation, and outdoor recreation in Washoe County. Read the resolution here.
  • October/November 2016: Washoe County Commission hosted a series of open house meetings for the public to learn more about the Washoe County public lands proposal.


Sage-Grouse Habitat Protections


Several of the areas in the Northwest Nevada Wilderness campaign contain critical sage-grouse habitat. The campaign would conserve sage-grouse habitat by providing permanent protection in unresolved wilderness study areas that overlap with Greater Sage-Grouse habitat by designating them as wilderness. These areas of non-development will perpetually preserve a portion of sagebrush-steppe landscape that can help aid in the bird’s recovery.

What is a Greater Sage-Grouse

The greater sage-grouse is a large, rounded-winged, ground-dwelling bird, up to 30 inches long and two feet tall, weighing from two to seven pounds.  It has a long, pointed tail with legs feathered to the base of the toes. Females are a mottled brown, black, and white. Males are larger and have a large white ruff around their neck and bright yellow air sacks on their breasts, which they inflate during their mating display.  The birds are found at elevations ranging from 4,000 to over 9,000 feet and are highly dependent on sagebrush for cover and food. The greater sage-grouse is the largest sage-grouse in America and its habitat is in the sagebrush-steppe landscape that stretches over eleven Western states, including a large portion of the northern part of Nevada. In fact, the bird is found in fifteen of Nevada's seventeen counties.

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