Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 8, 2020


Patrick Donnelly, (702) 483-0449,

Nevada Sen. Cortez Masto Proposes Massive Public Lands Seizure for Bombing Range, Development

Legislation Would Sacrifice Migratory Bird, Bighorn Sheep Habitat

RENO, Nev.— Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) has proposed legislation to transfer approximately half a million acres of public land to the U.S. Navy to expand the Fallon Naval Air Station bombing range in central Nevada. The bill, to be wrapped into the National Defense Authorization Act, would also sell or give away hundreds of thousands of acres of public land for development.

“Senator Cortez Masto’s bill would be one of the biggest land grabs in Nevada’s history,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Nevadans have clearly expressed their opposition to this military land seizure, yet the senator has rolled out the red carpet for the Navy to drop bombs on our public lands.”

The total acreage of public land lost would approach 750,000 acres, roughly the size of Yosemite National Park.

The bill gives the Navy nearly everything it’s requested, tripling the size of the bombing range and allowing entire valleys and mountain ranges to become bombing targets and a network of roads.

It would also give away more than 27,000 acres of public land in Churchill, Pershing, Douglas and Lander counties for development, with no environmental review, and sell off an open-ended amount of public land, likely hundreds of thousands of acres.

The bombing-range expansion would do significant harm to central Nevada’s wildlife. Bombs would be dropped on important bighorn sheep and mule deer habitat and increasing low-level overflights would have devastating effects on birds. The irreplaceable aquatic habitat at Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, a vital stopover on the Pacific flyway, would be severely harmed by overflights, likely disturbing migratory and breeding birds. The refuge is Nevada’s largest winter habitat for bald eagles.

In a press release, the senator erroneously implied that Nevada’s Indigenous communities approve of the legislation. In fact the National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution opposing the military expansion. And the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe released an statement yesterday stating: “[W]e have the most to lose from expansion and remain deeply concerned that any benefits of the proposal come at the Tribe’s expense. This is fundamentally unjust.”

The proposal to expand Fallon air base is in sharp contrast to Cortez Masto’s opposition to the proposed expansion of Nellis Air Force Base, which would take over much of Desert National Wildlife Refuge if approved. She has introduced legislation to block nearly all of that proposal.

“I’m appalled that the senator is facilitating the seizure and destruction of Nevada’s vital wildlife habitat and sacred cultural landscapes by the military-industrial complex,” said Donnelly. “How can she work to save the Desert Refuge and then propose that the military and developers run roughshod over our public lands elsewhere? It’s perplexing and profoundly disappointing, but we’ll fight like hell to save these beautiful public lands and the wildlife that depend on them.”

Wetlands at Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge at sunset. Photo credit, Patrick Donnelly
Wetlands at Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge at sunset. Photo credit, Patrick Donnelly. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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