A congressional committee struck down Rep. Mark Amodei’s amendment to a military appropriations bill that would have transferred more than 500,000 acres of federal public land to the Navy and private developers—but the proposal will keep returning.
Some Nevada environmental groups celebrated the amendment’s defeat.
“This measure would have inflicted significant, permanent harm to wildlife,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Nevada needs more birds, not more bombs.”
The center was among the advocacy groups opposed to the measure, which members characterized as a “land grab” by the Fallon Naval Air Station, which already fences off 200,000 acres of formerly public land. The Navy has requested a total of 600,000 more acres to accommodate more complex training needs, and to accommodate its latest fighter aircraft and weapons systems.
Activists who have opposed other attempts to expand the Navy’s footprint near Fallon said that by attaching the proposal to the must-pass appropriations bill, Amodei was trying to slip the measure in under the public’s radar.
“Nevadans and people from across the country rose up … and demanded accountability and transparency on this measure, which was never vetted with the public,” said Olivia Brister, environmental justice program manager for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “Our public lands and water are for the public, not the military and mining companies. Now we need our elected representatives to make sure this destructive proposal does not come back, and we need concerned Nevadans to continue to stand with us in this fight to protect this land.”
Amodei, who has been pushing the land transfer plan for years and whose 186-page amendment was tucked into the annual Defense Authorization Act, has said he isn’t giving up. In September 2021, Amodei introduced a bill that would expand the Navy’s bombing ranges by 475,291 acres to be used for testing and training for aerial bombing, missile firing and tactical maneuvering. His web page describes the proposal as a necessary measure to modernize the training facility by “responsibly addressing the gaps between current training capabilities and current and future training requirements, while also paying respect to environmental, tribal and military concerns.”
Some Nevada tribes have previously opposed transferring more land to the Navy, but Amodei and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who has backed similar measures, included some concessions within their proposals. Amodei’s bill would also create the Dixie Valley Special Management area of about 269,572 acres, which would not restrict public access and create nearly 1 million acres of wilderness and conservation areas, with prohibitions on oil and gas leasing.
Another provision of Amodei’s amendment would have established a $20 million Numu Newe Cultural Heritage Center on the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe’s reservation. That center would be dedicated to preserve traditional knowledge, culture and language. Amodei’s plan also would have expanded the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe’s reservation by about 5,000 acres and created a 160,000 acre Numu Newe national conservation area.
Some environmental and conservation groups, including the Friends of Nevada Wilderness and the Conservation Lands Foundation, have backed some of the latest compromise proposals, because they believe that sooner or later, the Navy will get the public land it covets. PLAN, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Great Basin Water Network and other environmental groups continue to fight the proposals.
Opponents of the land transfers also object to their potential effect on the state’s water resources.
“We’ve seen these dirty tricks before, and water defenders across the Great Basin are breathing easier because the Dixie Valley water grab will not be moving forward with this measure,” said Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network. “Land bills and water grabs go hand in hand in this state. We are glad this committee did not take the bait.”
Opponents said Amodei’s proposal also would harm a vital bird area at Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge that supports hundreds of thousands of birds as they stop along the Pacific Flyway on their migratory journey. The area of the proposed bombing range expansion also is home to bighorn sheep and other protected wildlife.
Brister said PLAN members and her other colleagues are thrilled Amodei’s amendment failed, “but we know this is not over. We will not rest on our laurels and will continue to advocate for justice for communities and the environment.’’