Nevada wildlife sanctuary robbery
Everyone who loves American public lands was robbed last week and they probably didn’t even know it.
While the rest of the country was distracted, the Democratic-majority House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), approved its version of the 2021 defense bill. As As president, Smith greenlit an amendment that effectively dismantled Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge, the largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states.
It’s hard to underestimate how important it is not just for this refuge, but for our public lands across the country. Covering 1.6 million acres, the desert refuge is home to iconic bighorn sheep, endangered desert tortoises, and dozens of resident and migratory bird species.
Next door, the US Air Force’s Nevada Test and Testing Range provides the military with 2.9 million acres for training. But that is apparently not enough. Despite overwhelming opposition from Nevadans, tribal nations and environmental organizations, without debate or fanfare, Smith quietly sanctioned the end of the desert refuge as we know it by giving control of over 800,000 acres to the military. .
Imagine the vast desert refuge, a sanctuary for wildlife, slowly turning into a training ground for industrial warfare. Desert sheep running in terror of deafening roar of military war games. The birds can no longer find a place to rest. The turtles are suddenly left to crouch in place for fear of coming under fire. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a haven for Nevada’s beloved wildlife is now a militarized zone.
The Air Force’s proposal provoked a strong and almost unanimous reaction of opposition from the people of Nevada. The state Legislature, led by Nevada State Senator Melanie Scheible and Congresswoman Lesley Cohen, passed a resolution opposing the expansion with the remarkable bipartisan vote of 58-3. Both the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians and the Las Vegas Band of Paiute Indians passed tribal resolutions as opposed to expansion. More than 32,000 people commented against the Air Force plan during a comment period.
As a result of this advocacy, Nevada’s congressional delegation introduced legislation last winter denying all but a small fraction of the Air Force’s request, while protecting nearly everything else from the refuge as wilderness. . Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) have made clear their opposition to this expansion, reflecting the near unanimous will of their constituents. We hope that their work to fend off this proposal will yield positive results and that they will reverse Rep. Smith’s devious scheme.
But there is greater damage that has been done here.
America’s public lands, more than 600 million acres in total, are held in trust by the government under the promise that they will be protected for future generations of people as well as wildlife, rivers, and air and l pure water. These are state forests, deserts, refuges and parks. The special places that we, as a society, have agreed upon are important enough to be protected and deserve far-sighted stewardship that keeps them intact.
Once we begin to pare them down in cynical moves of political bargaining, we are treading a very dangerous road. If other members of Congress start following Smith’s misguided path, we are likely to see the slow dismantling of other wildlife refuges, other forest lands, other parks, other waterways. Soon our protected public lands are no longer that – and the corrosive effects become deep and long lasting.
There is a particular danger here for our network of national wildlife refuges. The refuge system was established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect the rich fish and wildlife heritage of the United States. At 568 refuges in all 50 states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages 95 million acres of our nation for the benefit of our wildlife.
In Smith’s home state of Washington there are 24 National Wildlife Refuges and I don’t think he would like to see the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge on the beautiful Columbia River turned into a target range for the Navy or the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia. in a training ground for the army.
These are real places with real benefits for wildlife, people and the environment.
Rep. Smith basically donated over 800,000 acres to Nevada. He is not only deeply out of touch with the values of supporting the American people for our public lands, but he is deeply concerned about what else he will do on behalf of the military.
He must act immediately to reverse course and restore the Desert Refuge’s wards. Anything less endangers all of our wildlife refuges, in Nevada and in our country.
Patrick Donnelly is the Nevada policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund.