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By Chuck N. Baker
(Southern Nevada) — In January of this year, the U.S. Air Force formally proposed to withdraw and reserve public lands for military utilization to support what it stated is modernization of the Nevada Test and Training Range. The end result would extend capability for improved training and testing of weapons systems, as well as advanced combat training, according to the Air Force. In its Executive Summary, the military states “Since enemy technology has become increasingly advanced and complex, more space is needed to replicate threat configurations.”
While few would argue that the military needs to keep ahead of potential threats to the nation, there were many at the hearing who were against the taking of additional Nevada public land for that purpose. Citing harm to the environment and possible damage to areas held sacred by indigenous peoples, several individuals and organizations spoke out against the proposal.
In October, the Department of the Air Force, through its Air Force Civil Engineer Center located at Joint Air Base San Antonio Lackland Texas, issued what it calls its “Final Legislative Environment Impact Statement: Nevada Test and Training Range Land Withdrawal, Nellis AFB, Nevada.” The impact statement is subtitled “Executive Summary” and is in the form of a 50-page document that includes a CD-ROM. While the statement itself is not signed, a cover letter is signed by the Program Manager, Michael Ackerman. While this article will cover some of the main points of the document, the general public can view the entire summary by going to www.NTTRLEIS.com, or by going to any one of 15 public libraries throughout the State that have copies for inspection.
The Air Force continues to define the purpose and need for action to sustain and enhance its capacity in order to meet current and future mission requirements “while continuing environmental stewardship of the lands entrusted to it.” The report notes that during the past 20 years, the population of Clark County’s Las Vegas metropolitan area has grown significantly. The northern half of the county abuts the test range, and the Air Force says that it has encountered public encroachment. By increasing the buffer and adjoining it to such infrastructure as fencing and other devices, it would help the public recognize boundaries and would increase public safety.
The report explains four alternatives for the taking of additional public lands, plus what it calls a fifth alternative — “no action.” In addition to summarizing details in each alternative, the report goes on to discuss items directly related to each one. More information is offered concerning affected environment and consequences, air space, air quality, noise, land use (including recreation and visual resources), wilderness areas, socioeconomics, biological resources, cultural resources, water and earth resources, hazardous materials and solid wastes, health and safety and environmental justice.
Whatever the outcome, the Air Force does not act alone in the matter. It has been cooperating with the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Energy, the National Security Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuges and Ecological Service, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Nevada Association of Counties and federally recognized tribes along with other government facilities. And in the final analysis, the chosen alternative must be voted on and approved by Congress, which has until November of 2021 to make a decision.
Nevada’s federal land is in demand in the north as well as the south. The U.S. Navy has announced it wants to triple its bombing range located near Fallon. It is seeking to add as much as 619,000 acres of federal land and more than 65,000 acres of private land to the Fallon Range Training Complex, about 350 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
As world tensions grow, the need for cutting edge counter-terrorism training expands as well. The government is relegated to walking a fine line providing safety to the nation, as well as appeasing well-meaning citizens who want to protect the environment.