Buildings made from stacked shipping containers await their next exercise at the Nevada Test and Training Range on Sunday, May 21, 2017. Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal run across the road during a range tour on the Nellis Air Force Base on Sunday, May 21, 2017. Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal metal target waits for action in “Gotham City,” an urban warfare facility at the Nevada Test and Training Range, on Sunday, May 21, 2017. Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal used as targets for depleted uranium bullets sit in the sun at the Nevada Test and Training Range on Sunday, May 21, 2017, waiting for the day when they will be cleaned up and repurposed. Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal jackrabbit stands near a target vehicle at the Nevada Test and Training Range on Sunday, May 21, 2017. Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal of metal, formerly bombs and the vehicles they were dropped on, sit in bins at the Nevada Test and Training Range after being sorted and prepped to be sold as scrap metal. Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal target used for training at the Nevada Test and Training Range on Sunday, May 21, 2017. Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal armored vehicle riddled with bullet holes waits in “Damnation Alley,” where aircraft and ground troops practice attacks in an urban setting deep inside the Nevada Test and Training Range. Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal radiation warning sign marks the entrance to part of the Nevada Test and Training Range where depleted uranium bullets were fired at tanks and other armored vehicles. The contaminated area serves an example of how the Air Force has impacted portions of the 2.9 million acre range. Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal a storage lot jokingly referred to as “K-Mart,” tanks and other vehicles wait tb prepped and deployed as targets on the Nevada Test and Training Range on Sunday, May 21, 2017. Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal streets of “Gotham City” are quiet during a rare tour of the Nevada Test and Training Range on Sunday, May 21, 2017. The Air Force wants to build more training facilities like this on land it hopes to gain control of within the range as part of an expansion now under environmental review. Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal
Just in time for National Wildlife Refuge Week, the Air Force has unveiled its final to about 277,000 acres of Nevada’s largest refuge, 30 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The final legislative environmental impact statement, , details the expansion of the 2.9 million-acre Nevada Test and Training Range by carving out more of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, roughly half of which is already under military control.
The document was posted to the internet Wednesday, but its release has yet to be formally announced in the Federal Register.
Air Force officials to increase the range’s training capacity and enable more realistic combat exercises featuring the latest military aircraft and enemy countermeasures.
The proposal, which requires congressional approval, would add more than 301,000 acres to the secure military proving ground in Clark, Lincoln and Nye counties.
Sheep Mountains in the crosshairs
Most of the expansion targets the Sheep Mountains, which were set aside as a wildlife refuge in 1936 to protect desert bighorn sheep.
Environmentalists, hunters, off-road enthusiasts and tribal groups have all come out against the idea, which they say will endanger wildlife, cut off access to public land and hurt rural recreation economies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also raised concerns about the proposal.
Officials from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Air Force did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
On its website, the service declares Oct. 14-20 as National Wildlife Refuge Week to “celebrate the great network of lands and waters that conserves and protects Americans’ precious wildlife heritage.”
Local conservationist Jose Witt said it was adding “insult to injury” for the Air Force to release its final environmental review when it did. Trying to slash the size of the largest refuge in the lower 48 states seems like “kind of an odd way to celebrate,” said Witt, who serves as Southern Nevada director for Friends of Nevada Wilderness, one of several conservation groups that oppose the range expansion.
Witt also wasn’t quite sure what to make of the newly released environmental review.
“This document doesn’t indicate a proposed action, so we’re anxiously waiting to see what that says,” Witt said. “We’re concerned that they are not going to take into account the they got against the proposal.”
What the Air Force wants
The Air Force is also seeking to extend — perhaps indefinitely — the military’s hold on all the land previously withdrawn from public use for the test range under a congressional decree last renewed in 1999. At the same time, the Air Force wants sole control of an 846,000-acre portion of the range that already overlaps the refuge and has been off-limits to the public for years.
By gaining sole control of that land to the military and erasing thousands of acres of proposed wilderness there, the Air Force would have the “ready access” it needs to conduct exercises across the southern half of the test and training range.
No new bomb impact areas are planned as part of the expansion, but the Air Force does want to build two new runways — one for takeoffs and landings, the other a training “mock-up.”
Witt said he doesn’t expect the Air Force to conduct more public meetings or collect more comments from stakeholders with the release of the final environmental review.
The matter will now be in the hands of Congress, which is expected to take action by 2021, when the current land withdrawal for the test and training range is set to expire.
Henry Brean at or. Follow on Twitter.