Military Base Expansions

Military Expansion into Desert National Wildlife Refuge: Environmental Review to Start this Winter

Desert NWR

^Limestone mountains and Joshua trees in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.

November 1, 2017 - Southern Nevada - We have found out through personal communication that the Legislative Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed 300,000 acre expansion of the Nellis Air Force Base will be released on December 8th, 2017. Nellis wants to expand on 220,000 acres of public lands on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada to make a military buffer for increased bombing. Several new roads, runways, towers and additional infrastructure would be built in the refuge and public access would be cut odd. An additional 80,000 acres of BLM land is also being looked at.

Public meetings have been scheduled, but the schedule has still not officially released yet. Here is the schedule:

Jan. 17 - Caliente, NV (Caliente Elementary School)
Jan. 18 - Alamo, NV (Pahranagat Valley High School)
Jan. 23 - Las Vegas (Aliante Casino + Hotel)
Jan. 24 - Beatty, NV (Beatty Community Center)
Jan. 25 - Tonopah, NV (Tonopah Convention Center)

5:00-6:30 pm (open house/comments)
6:30-7:00 pm (USAF presentation)
7:00-9:00 pm (open house/comments)

Comments will not be accepted in a public form. You will have to submit them privately to a court reporter. Information can be viewed here:

Marines Order Coyote Kill along with Tortoise Translocation

March 22, 2017 - Red Alert: Call the 29 Palms Marine Corps base Public Affairs office at (760) 830-5310 and tell them not to start killing coyotes!

The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center is hosting a coyote hunt in an attempt to "save" the 1,500 desert tortoises they are about to move (translocate) off of 49,000 acres of Mojave Desert habitat for large military vehicle maneuvers. This is definitely not a "conservation action" as described below. It is impossible to remove coyotes. Past attempts to kill coyotes to save tortoises have not worked. If the Marines want to help 1,500 desert tortoises, the best action is to avoid expanding the base and leave the tortoises alone in their natural habitat.

This is a major admonition that desert tortoise translocations results in unacceptably high mortality, as tortoises are removed from their home ranges and released in areas strange to them where they do not have a memory of their favored burrows and other shelters. Translocated tortoises often travel long distances in an attempt to return to their familiar home ranges, and during these wanderings they become very susceptible to natural predations by native species such as coyotes and ravens.

This is not the fault of the coyotes, but the fault of modern pressures to develop the desert and expand destructive management practices such as military maneuvers into the homes of tortoises and coyotes. The so-called mitigation of killing coyotes is a false action that will not help recover the tortoise, and will only disrupt desert ecosystems more. Coyotes are a native, natural species that belong to the Mojave Desert. Tanks, Humvees, bombing, live-fire exercises, and military maneuvers do not belong to the desert. The military has enough land to carry out tests and training, they do not need to keep expanding.

An unacceptably high tortoise mortality resulted from the Ft. Irwin Army base expansion where nearly 50% of desert tortoises suffered mortality after being removed. Coyotes were blamed for predating many tortoises, and claims were made that a drought was increasing coyote predation on tortoises. But the evidence we have seen is that translocation itself is the cause of mortality, not any unusually high number of coyotes, or drought conditions, or subsidized predators. The simple cause is the current politically-agreed upon need to take more desert tortoise habitat for destructive development and military usage. In other words, the continued expansion of the Military-Industrial Complex. This coyote hunt shows that the military believes a similar high tortoise mortality is expected, without extreme measures to "protect" translocated tortoises who are placed far from their safe home ranges.

The Coyote hunt should be halted, and if tortoises are to be translocated, other, better mitigation measures should be taken in order to safeguard translocated tortoises, such as more artificial burrows constructed and tortoises watched over and monitored with GPS tags to track their movement at a much higher intensity then simply dumping them into new territory and expecting them to fend for themselves. We cannot rely on translocation to save tortoises, it is a failed mitigation measure. But blaming coyotes is not the answer.

Call the 29 Palms Marine Corps base Public Affairs office at (760) 830-5310 and tell them not to start killing coyotes!

The information we obtained from the Marine Base reads:

MCAGCC [Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center] will host a coyote hunt ca. 0600-2200h each Saturday and Sunday 25 & 26 March 2017 in the Sand Hill, West, Gypsum Ridge, East, Cleghorn Lake RTA.
A sixth RTA (Acorn or Prospect) may be included. There will be two hunters per RTA on each day, with their focus probably dawn and dusk (e.g., two hunters in Sand Hill on Saturday, and two hunters in Sand Hill on Sunday). See program notice below.

"The hunters must have a current CA Hunting license (which requires Hunter Safety Training) and obey all normal rules (e.g., speed limits, no off-MSR vehicle traffic in Restricted Areas) for use of the RTA. The CLEOs will operate the program, hunters will be equipped with range radios to communicate with BEARMAT.

"CALL FOR CONSERVATION ACTION PARTICIPATION In support of the Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs (NREA) Division's coyote depredation program, volunteers are invited to participate in a coyote depredation hunt. To be considered, please send your name via an email to NLT Friday, March 17, 2017 with your full name, contact phone number and email address. After a lottery draw, a limited number of volunteers will be notified and invited by NREA to participate in the event. To participate, volunteers must be available for an in-brief at 1830 on 24 Mar, possess a current California hunting license, and have a 4x4 transport to get them out to the Range Training Areas where the hunt will occur. The hunt will go on 25 and 26 Mar, and each volunteer will be assigned a day and hunting area. The purpose of the depredation program is to reduce the numbers of coyotes that are unnaturally inflated in the local area due to human subsidies. Elevated coyote numbers prove a safety risk to residents, and are a significant factor in the mortality of the desert tortoise."

Details of Nellis Test and Training Range Expansion Plans Discussed at Scoping Meeting

^B-1 Bomber.

October 12, 2016 - Beatty NV - We attended the scoping meeting for Nellis Test and Training Range (NTTR) military base expansion in Beatty, which was well-attended by the town and many ranchers from hundreds of miles away. The base proposes to expand into adjacent public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge).

Public comments will be collected until December 10, 2016. Submit comments here:

See the story by Wynne Benti in the Sierra Club Desert Report.

Legislative Environmental Review Statement

This is a Legislative Environmental Review Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), of which we still have many questions that we are trying to find answers to. It is complex. The Department of the Air Force will follow the applicable procedures set forth in Bureau of Land Management regulations at Title 43 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 2300 implementing the Department of Interior’s authority to process federal land withdrawal applications. So this review will go through the Department of the Interior. But the Air Force is the lead agency for the LEIS.

Congress has reserved the authority for renewing the NTTR land withdrawal for itself, through the Defense Withdrawal Act of 1958 (43 USC Sections 155–158), and will make the final decision as to whether or not to renew the NTTR land withdrawal. The current NTTR land withdrawal expires in 2021 unless legislation is enacted extending it. What this review process and decision would do is change the usual extension from the status quo of current military land acreage and co-management with Desert National Wildlife Refuge, to a large expansion of 301,507 acres over the wildlife refuge, BLM land, and changes to how the military ranges are used (with an increase in live fire bombing). More of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge would be off-limits to the public, such as Hidden Forest. The Corn Creek Visitor Center area would remain open, and the southeast part of the refuge. Alamo Road would apparently be closed.

Why Does the Military Need More Land?

At the meeting we asked these questions. Air Force personnel and contractors told us this is because of the "one-in-a-million" chance of debris or shrapnel leaving the target area during a bomb drop from different angles.

The North Range of the NTTR already allows more unrestricted and broad live fire bombing tests and training. But the South Range does not have this allowance, and has very restricted targets and approaches to targets for live fire tests.

The Air Force wants the ability to do training where aircraft come in from different angles, in a 360-degree range, to do live fire bombing of targets in the South Range. Currently they can only fly in from one direction in the basin where targets are, due to the configuration of mountain ridges. Shrapnel and debris is carefully calculated to spread in a certain direction, and not aim outside of military boundaries.

The Air Force wants to be able to fly in faster and higher, to more realistically train in modern warfare conditions, over the Sheep Range and lower ridges, where electronic countermeasure devices would be constructed to imitate enemy stands.

Aircraft would fly in from other directions as well under this proposal so that there is an extremely remote possibility that debris or shrapnel from high impacts on targets would fling over some lower mountains into adjacent public land sections, or misfires would occur.

No new Target Impact Areas would be developed, only present targets would be used in training. But a 360 degree approach to targets, at faster speeds for live fire training is what is needed, according to the Air Force. They said this would be a more realistic warfare environment.

Wanting to expand Safety Buffer zones and increase war game complexity, the Air Force is anticipating Fifth generation F-35 aircraft becoming available, and new advanced weapons systems. Intermediate to advanced training with more modernized systems will be fielded. Currently war games are not allowed in the mountains of the South Range, and these alternatives would open up access to the military. Increased mountain warfare tests and training are sought.

Drone Testing

^Reaper drone.

This expanded use of live fire bombing in the South Range would take up so much space that they want to move the main drone testing area to Range 77 near Beatty, on the headwaters of the Amargosa River and Pahute Mesa. They showed a map of how the drones would still be stationed at Indian Springs, would take off, fly across the Test Site, to Range 77 where the drones would shoot Hellfire Missiles into the mountains there, along with electronic warfare exercises. Then they would return to Indian Springs. So now the main drone live-fire testing will be about 20 miles from Beatty. About 18,000 acres of BLM land would be enclosed to allow for electronic warfare training buffers, and Safety Buffers for live fire training, apparently both in the Amargosa River headwaters terrain, and in the North Range edges.

Desert National Wildlife Refuge

^The Sheep Range as seen from Corn Creek, Desert National Wildlife Refuge. This part of the mountain range would be fully enclosed in military lands and closed to the public.

A large section (220,027 acres) of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge along Alamo Road in the eastern half of the refuge would be closed to public use as a Safety Buffer for South Range training and tests. Another 7,621 acres would be enclosed around Creech Air Force Base in other alternatives.

The Air Force in Alternative 3C (see below) also wants to build a new landing strip for C-130s on a dry lake in the wildlife refuge, new radar installations, new roads, and off-highway vehicle maneuvers in the mountains. Cement pads to hold radar and electronic warfare installations on mountain ridges would be constricted, the pads would be approximately 150 by 150 feet. Other proposed training may include dune buggies used in secret ops, Threat Emitters on mountain tops, and inserting troops in mountainous areas.

Proposed Wilderness Areas in the South Range would be removed.

US Fish and Wildlife personnel said they supported the status quo, which is Alternative 1 and 4A (see below). This is the alternative we support. This would continue the 20-year withdrawal period for existing military lands (no increase).

About 600 desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) dwell in the mountainous refuge, one of the best populations of the subspecies anywhere in the desert. As it stands, USFWS biologists are only allowed to access the shared refuge to monitor sheep for 20 hours a year for helicopter flights. It is not known how much access to USFWS would be affected by enclosure of more of the refuge. The military plans to radio-collar some bighorn sheep on the NTTR to track movements. We would ask to require monitoring of bighorn sheep and other species such as desert tortoise, with full public transparency as to their status. Increased noise will certainly be a factor, as well as overflights, new constructions, roads, maneuvers, and training operations.

The Hidden Forest trail would be closed.

Congress will decide after the Final EIS is released.

^Poster showing Biological Resources on the NTTR. We disagree with the number of tortoises supposedly within the South Range, there is a high density that may be in threat of live fire bombing.

Public Reaction

We saw no public support in the audience, only questions and concerns. At our Beatty meeting the attendance was relatively high, and many concerned ranchers drove in from as far away as Yerington. Discussions about access to traditional watering areas, grazing allotments, and other issues prevailed. All in a civil and polite manner. The upper Amargosa River, for example, has grazing on BLM land and this would be enclosed.

Beatty itself, a struggling former mining town looking to a future boosted tourism economy, even eco-tourism, would be squeezed by more land grabs, many say. Local entrepreneurs have developed mountain bike trails partly on private ranches and partly on BLM land to attract sport tourism to the area. We support this as a low-impact land use that can help the local economy and has a very low footprint on the landscape. In fact mountain bikers have started coming to Beatty to enjoy the desert scenery and professionally-designed and built trail system that offers miles of technical challenges and scenic tours. Part of this mountain bike trail system would be cut off by the military expansion. Other mountain bike trails were planned in areas of the proposed expansion, so Beatty's future may be squeezed tighter before it can grow.

Other locals made comments about how they hiked in these lands, rode their horses, and participated in 4x4 tourism on backcountry dirt roads.

This area would be fenced in with barbwire fencing and established dirt roads would be cut off and gated.

There was some discussion of shared use of the land with military, allowing public access for certain events or during certain seasons. But local people said this was preventing the development of new forms of tourism in these lands, with unanticipated times of use.

Ready Access of military lands might accommodate hunting in some areas, a topic repeatedly brought up. Many residents of Nevada were concerned about access being restricted to more and more lands in the state. The NTTR already locks up more than 2 million acres. We have taken oral histories of long-time residents people who remember traveling, hunting, recreating, gathering pinyon nuts, and ranching in the present NTTR before it was declared military land.

Informational brochure at meeting detailing Alternatives:

Scoping Begins for Nevada Military Land Expansion

August 28, 2016 - The Nellis Test and Training Range, and Naval Air Station in Fallon are seeking to expand to accommodate "new advanced technology." They want to take Bureau of Land Management land in exchanges, but this is amazing desert that we hike in and visit. We are asking for more maps to be provided. There will be public meetings--see the websites for listings.

We hope people speak up about this! That is your public land.

Nellis Test and Training Range Proposed Expansion

^The upper Amargosa River watershed which would be included in the proposed expansion.

June 8, 2016 - Following the approved Ft. Irwin and the 29 Palms Marine Base expansions, the US Air Force has a proposal to expand the boundaries of their range in central-south Nevada.

We talked to the Air Force about the large military expansion proposal for the range in Nevada which would potentially transfer up to 230,000 acres of public land to the military, mostly in the Mojave Desert.
They are proposing the following alternatives:

1. Keeping the existing range
2. Adding 18,000 acres to the base in the northern section
3. Adding 64,000 acres to the base along the west side of the South Range (this would include more of the upper Amargosa River watershed)
4. Adding 230,000 acres of land to the range along the east side of the South Range. This would all be BLM land and you would have no longer have access.

In August, scoping for Legislative Environmental Impact Statement will take place. At this time, maps will be released although the agencies have the maps now. This is all part of a request by Congress to expand the range and even remove some of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.

Here is the text of the email we received from the Air Force concerning this expansion proposal:

The Air Force is in the process of evaluating proposals for the upcoming military land withdrawal of the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). The current military land withdrawal of the NTTR expires in November 2021. We are going to be completing a Legislative Environmental Impact Statement (LEIS) over the next few years (2016-2018), beginning this summer (~ August) with public scoping meetings. We don't have maps of the proposed withdrawal alternatives finalized yet, as we are working with the land survey office to determine how proposed alternatives overlap existing legal boundary descriptions and how alternative boundaries will need to be adjusted. Alternatives being considered by the Air Force will evaluate renewal of the existing NTTR military land withdrawal in its current boundaries and configuration, will propose adjustments in land management and jurisdiction, will analyze several options for increasing the acreage of the existing withdrawal area to enhance testing, training and operational security; and will look at options for extending the duration of the existing withdrawal timeframe (20 years, 50 years, or making the military withdrawal permanent until such time as lands are no longer needed for military testing or training). Sub-alternatives for adding additional land to the NTTR will look at adding ~18,000 acres, ~60,000 acres, and ~230,000 acres in 3 separate areas around the NTTR.

More information will be forthcoming as the Air Force planning process for the NTTR land withdrawal moves forward, and public meetings will occur later this summer.


Mike Ackerman
(210) 925-2741, DSN 945-2741

^The present boundary of the Nevada test and Training Range along the upper Amargosa River watershed north of Beatty.

^Fileds of desert marigold (Baileya pleniradiata) in sandy soils along the upper Amargosa River north of Beatty, NV. Will this area be taken out of public access by military base expansion? It is currently Bureau of Land Management.