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House panel blocks bid to expand military training range into Nevada wildlife refuge

An MQ-9 Reaper flies a training mission over the Nevada Test and Training Range, July 15, 2019. MQ-9 aircrew provide dominant, persistent attack and reconnaissance for comabtant commanders and coalition partners across the globe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class William Rio Rosado)

Opponents of an effort to expand the Nevada Test and Training Range have reason to celebrate Friday after a congressional committee voted to block the Air Force’s plans for greater control of a national wildlife refuge north of Las Vegas.

“We’ve won this round,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The U.S. House Rules Committee voted unanimously to strike language from an amendment in a national defense spending bill that would have given the military greater management authority over the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, which covers about 2,500 square miles of Mojave Desert.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee passed an amendment filed by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to enable the expansion of the Nellis Air Force Base for aerial combat and ground warfare training.

“This provoked an enormous backlash, a nationwide response,” Donnelly said. Thousands called on Congress to stop the amendment, he said, and the #DontBombTheBighorn hashtag began trending on social media.

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The proposed military land grab drew the ire of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, environmentalists, Southern Nevada veterans and anti-war activists.

Last week, Nevada Reps. Steven Horsford, Dina Titus and Susie Lee introduced an amendment to strike Bishop’s language from the National Defense Authorization Act.

In an earlier letter to House Armed Services and House Natural Resources committees, Horsford, Titus and Lee said the move would mean “hundreds of thousands of acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge would no longer be a refuge at all.”

Their amendment passed Friday.

The wildlife refuge is the largest in the lower 48 United States and is home to the endangered desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions and 320 types of bird species across six mountain ranges.

It also encompasses ancestral tribal lands and recreation areas, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The existing Nevada Test and Training Range — located in rural Clark, Lincoln and Nye counties — covers more than 4,500 square miles and includes the remote, once-secret Area 51 military base.

The Nevada Democrats’ amendment will receive a final, full House vote this week.

Donnelly said there’s still work to do in terms of protecting the wildlife refuge.

“We don’t expect the final passage and the signature from the president until December, so we’re not done yet,” he said.

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©2020 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.