The Navy’s request for more than 600,000 acres of Nevada public land to expand its training range is at the heart of a federal lands bill introduced this month by Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei.
The training range in Fallon is currently about 232,000 acres, meaning the addition would almost triple the size of the bombing range, a massive expansion opposed by environmental groups and neighboring tribes.
An earlier analysis by the Navy concluded additional acres were needed to safely train using modern aircraft and newer weapons systems with more range.
Amodei’s bill would also open thousands of acres of federally-managed public land to local development.
Components of the bill were developed in collaboration with local officials using planning and zoning proposals passed by Nevada counties, including Douglas County, Lander County, Pershing County, and Churchill County.
Amodei said though a statement from his office that if any groups or individuals oppose aspects of the bill, “I’d advise them to call the respective local planning and zoning folks because that’s where we’re going to take our clue from since this is a locally driven effort.”
All together the 148-page bill, dubbed the ‘‘Northern Nevada Economic Development, Conservation and Military Modernization Act of 2020,’’ could potentially transfer about 750,000 acres out of public hands across the state for military use and local economic development.
As of Friday, Amodei’s bill did not have any co-sponsors. The Nevada congressional delegation has in large part been silent on the expansion but Amodei’s office said members of the delegation have discussed moving Nevada’s Northern and Southern lands priorities through the National Defense Authorization Act, the primary way Congress supports the military including maintaining the Navy.
Amodei and his staff had several meetings with Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen leading up to the introduction of the bill and have been in contact with their offices throughout the legislative process, according to his office.
“Senator Cortez Masto is currently reviewing the legislation at this time,” said Ryan King, a spokesman for the senator. “She continues to have discussions with the Navy, local governments, conservationists and tribal communities on developing legislation that addresses the concerns of all stakeholders.”
Nevada tribes — including the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes and the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada — have opposed the expansion of the Navy training range and been critical of what they say is a lack of consultation.
“The Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe and other tribes in the area have presented our concerns to Congressman Amodei regarding the monumental impacts a base expansion would have on our way of life and on our cultural sites and burials — none of which are meaningfully addressed in the proposed legislation,” said Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribal Chairman Len George in a statement. “Despite the fact that the bill disposes of thousands of acres of our ancestral homelands, we were not consulted in the development of this bill. We and the National Congress of American Indians stand united in opposition to any expansion of NAS Fallon.”
George says the expansion of Navy training on Paiute Shoshone traditional lands will destroy burial grounds and other sacred cultural sites. The expansion would also cut off public lands for religious and cultural activities like gathering, hunting, ceremonies and burials.
In what seems like a reverse course on the typical party line, the bill also includes the establishment of about 320,000 acres of land as natural conservation areas to be called the Stillwater National Conservation Area and the Grimes Point National Conservation Area. The bill also removes about 300,000 acres of land from oil and gas leasing, including the Ruby Mountains, mirroring legislation introduced by Cortez Masto banning oil and gas leasing on the mountains.
Despite those protections, environmental groups say the long-awaited proposal to expand the Fallon Naval Air Station in central Nevada by more than 600,000 acres is a non-starter.
“We would never belittle those protections,” said Patrick Donnelly Nevada State Director Center for Biological Diversity. “They are certainly important, but they are not worth the sacrifice of expanding the bombing ranges and increasing residential and industrial development.”
Donnelly said the environmental protections in the bill do not include the most biodiverse valleys, like Dixie Valley, a small desert oasis fed by natural hot springs.
The Center petitioned the federal government in 2017 for the protection of the Dixie Toad which lives in wetlands dotting the western edge of the valley.
“Dixie Meadows doesn’t get protected in this bill,” Donnelly said. “That’s the most important place out there as far as biodiversity goes.”
“This bill is a huge public lands giveaway to the military and private developers,” Donnelly said, adding “Amodei has a long track record as a public lands opponent and would sell off the last acre of our natural heritage if he could.”
Environmental groups have advocated for some of the protections provided in the bill, like conservation of the Ruby Mountains.
The bill also includes improved versions of the Pershing County Lands Bill and Douglas County Lands Bill the environmental group Friends of Nevada Wilderness worked on for years with county lawmakers, and are nearly identical to versions of Senate bills introduced by Cortez Masto and Rosen.
Friends of Nevada Wilderness executive director Shaaron Netherton said the group is united in opposition to the expansion of the Fallon Naval Air Station but do support parts of the bill that they have worked on.
“No, we don’t support the large expansion in the bill as presented in congressman Amodei’s bill,” Netherton said. “That said we are supportive of parts of it but it’s a huge complex bill.”
Netherton criticized the use of the authorization act to package county specific land bills with the controversial Navy training bill expansion.
“This isn’t something Congressman Amodei just made up and stuck in the bill. He’s collected things that have been put out over many years because he thinks it’s an opportunity to move that forward,” Netherton said.