Military Base Expansions

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.