Thanks to the leadership of Senator Jacky Rosen and her top-notch staff, we are now encouraged by the direction of discussions that could very well lead to a Truckee Meadows/Washoe County public lands bill weighing more heavily in favor of conservation. We hope to see a bill introduced this year.
Draft maps indicate that about 223,000 acres of Wild Washoe County could receive Wilderness designation along with 542,000 acres of National Conservation Area designation. We’re also working with other conservation partners, hoping to maintain open public access to popular recreation areas closer to the urban population, like the Virginia Mountains/Tule Peak and the Petersens. About 151,000 acres closer in to Reno could be protected as special management areas of some kind.
We have worked with the Senator’s staff to provide mapping and ground-truthing various concerns and working out detailed solutions and whatever else we can do to move the process forward. Finally, after years of various attempts at Washoe County legislation, much of it unacceptable to the conservation community and fought off by all of our supporters, it appears we’re on the right path. Stay tuned as we may soon be calling on you once again, our
volunteers and supporters, to encourage your elected leaders to get to the finish line and Keep Washoe Wild!
Current Proposal being considered for legislative action
Bitner Table Wilderness * 25,220 acres
Granite Banjo Wilderness 30,003 acres
Wrangler Wilderness* 49,540 acres
Burro Wilderness 6,343 acres
Total BLM Wilderness 111,106 acres
Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness: 112,002 acres
Total Wilderness 223,108 acres
BLM National Conservation Areas
Hayes Canyon Range 146,997 acres
Massacre Rim Dark Sky 121,739 acres
Granite Banjo 10,983 acres
Smoke Creek 261,837 acres
TOTAL NCAs 541,556 acres
BLM Special Management Areas (SMAs)
Tule Peak/Virginia Mountains 36,405 acres
Petersen/Sand Hills 75,302 acres
Pah Rah Cultural Area 39,598 acres
TOTAL SMAs 151,305 acres
Also being considered is a special designation for the Forest Service Peavine Mountain 19,626 acres
TOTAL CONSERVATION 830,835 acres
*Bitner Table and Wrangler Canyon
Wilderness areas are contiguous
with NCA, therefore they are
only counted once towards total
After the two public meetings in early 2020, COVID happened along with the 2021 Nevada legislative session and work on the bill largely stopped for a couple of years. Senator Rosen's staff picked up the process again in late 2021 and have been working with local agencies and governments and stakeholders of all sorts.
Two public meetings on the proposed Truckee Meadows Public Lands Management Act (TMPLMA) took place on February 18th and 20th at the Reno Sparks Convention Center.
The meeting on the 18th was informational and the public comment meeting was held on the 20th. Thanks to so many of our supporters for turning out. It was clear that there was still a great deal of concern about both the expanded growth boundary and sale of public lands as well as concerns with the paltry amount of Wilderness being proposed. See the official notice here.
Here is a summary of the comments Friends has submitted regarding the latest proposal from Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Sparks.
After facing a number of obstacles in 2018 that prevented a successful outcome, Washoe County officials restarted and rebranded the discussion they hoped would lead to introduction of a public lands bill in Congress by mid-2020. Friends participated in numerous stakeholder meetings and submitted additional and detailed comments to Washoe County and the members of our Congressional delegation.
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.
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:
- Cultural resource protection
- Wildlife habitat and wildlife corridor connectivity – especially for the Greater Sage-Grouse
- Dark Sky protection
- Dispersed outdoor recreation
- Watershed protection
- Airshed protection
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.
Keep scrolling below to read more details about these special places and how Friends has been fighting for permanent conservation protection.
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.
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 protection.
* - The Smoke Creek National Conservation Area would be comprised of 170,721 acres of Wilderness and 181,809 acres of non-Wilderness.
** - Over the years since Wall Canyon was made a WSA, roads have been expanded and created. As a result, there are now more management concerns than before. For this reason and others, we believe a compromise would be a larger yet less restrictive designation as a National Conservation Areas that would take in much of the area deserving of protection while providing more flexible management for wildlife and habitat restoration.
*** - We would prefer to see some form of conservation on the Fox Range Wilderness Study Area, but we will ultimately defer to the Pyramid Lake Tribes on how they would like to see this range managed since it is adjacent to the Reservation.
Friends of Nevada Wilderness Proposed Areas for Protection
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 Smoke Creek National Conservation Area with Wilderness is a complex including Buffalo Hills, Poodle Mountain, Twin Peaks, Skedaddle and Dry Valley Rim Wilderness Study Areas. Protecting this area as a National Conservation Area with Wilderness will ensure the wildlife connectivity from Hart Mountain through the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, the proposed Wall Canyon-Hays Canyon Range National Conservation Area, 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.
A majority of the Wall Canyon Wilderness Study Area and the surrounding Hays Canyon Range contains critical and irreplaceable habitat for the greater sage grouse and archaeological surveys of the region reveal a highly complex pre-historic settlement pattern. We propose a National Conservation Area that would take in much of the area deserving of protection while providing more flexible management for wildlife and habitat restoration.
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. Protective 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 (also known as the Sheldon Contiguous Wilderness Study Area) is found on the northwest boundary of the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. Permanent protection of this 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.
In the adjacent Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, it would be prudent to include Wilderness resolutions for the entire refuge (located in both Washoe and Humboldt Counties) and provide complete resolution for the USFWS wilderness proposals. This will allow the Refuge more flexible management options. It is also important for the delegation to enact a permanent mineral withdrawal for the entire refuge with the exception of the Virgin Valley Mining District. Currently, the mineral withdrawal is administrative and only for 20 years.
The Sheldon Refuge, set aside in 1931 to help the imperiled American pronghorn provides some of the best intact wildlife habitat in the western US. Much of the refuge was formally proposed as Wilderness by the agency in the 1970’s and those proposals sent to Congress. It is USFWS policy to manage these areas as Wilderness until Congress acts.
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 Fox Range Wilderness Study Area 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. We would prefer to see some form of conservation on this range but we will defer to the Pyramid Lake Tribes on how they would like to see this range managed since it is adjacent to the Reservation.
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:
- Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler [email protected]
- Commissioner Vaughn Hartung [email protected]
- Commissioner Jeanne Herman [email protected]
- Commissioner Kitty Jung [email protected]
- Commissioner Bob Lucey [email protected]
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.
- 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.