Opinion

Congress Must Reject Military Expansion Into Desert National Wildlife Refuge

The Desert National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Las Vegas, is one of the most pristine and untouched landscapes in the country. It is the largest wildlife refuge in the contiguous United States. But this land offers so much more than beautiful Mojave landscapes and habitat for diverse wildlife. The Desert National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding public lands also provide immense economic opportunities to surrounding small businesses. 

Public lands are powerful engines for small businesses as campers, hikers and other recreationists flock to the area. These visitors buy meals, gas and purchase souvenirs and other goods from local businesses. As our state works to recover from the historic economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we should pursue every avenue of economic potential for small businesses. In a state like Nevada where outdoor recreation is responsible for $12.6 billion in consumer spending, we must protect this industry by protecting public lands. 

And yet, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge is under attack. The military has already shut the public out of nearly 3 million acres in southern Nevada. This includes more than half of this refuge. And yet, the Air Force has proposed expanding even further into the refuge. 

Recently, during a House Armed Services Committee meeting, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would largely hand over 800,000 acres of the refuge to the United States Air Force. 

As Nevada recovers from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must set the outdoor recreation industry up for success. In addition to billions in consumer spending, the outdoor recreation industry also represents roughly 87,000 Nevada jobs. Protecting this industry means maintaining access to public lands so that small businesses can have a chance to thrive once again. As we have seen during these difficult times, people are flocking to our public lands to recreate safely, relax, exercise and find some peace of mind.

The bill will come to the House floor for a vote as soon as this week. We encourage Congress to listen to Nevadans, and the resolution passed nearly unanimously by the Nevada State Legislature. We ask that Congress reject any military expansion or takeover of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. 

Nevada’s congressional delegation has been united in its defense of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. And despite the significant impact the Air Force takeover would have on our state, not a single member of the Nevada congressional delegation was consulted on the issue. 

We stand with Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Reps. Steven Horsford, Dina Titus and Susie Lee (D-Nev.), our governor and our state Legislature as they continue fighting hard to protect the Desert Refuge and get Nevadans get back on our feet. We hope the Congress will listen.

Meghan Wolf is the environmental activism manager for Patagonia based in Reno, Nev., and Dean DeGidio is the store manager for REI in Reno. Meghan and Dean are co-founders of the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition, which works statewide on behalf of outdoor recreation and the benefits of healthy lands and waters for Nevada’s economy.

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