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Wild Sheep Foundation Acknowledges 84th Anniversary of Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge with Concerns

May 19, 2020
posted in: Conservation, News

Bozeman, Montana. May 19, 2020. Established on May 20, 1936, Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR) is the largest national wildlife refuge outside of Alaska, encompassing 1.6 million acres, located just North of Las Vegas. Over 1.3 million acres is proposed wilderness and has been managed as such since 1974. It is home to a vast diversity of flora and fauna, including desert bighorn sheep.

In 2000, Congress provided one half of the DNWF for use by the U.S. Air Force as a training ground. Congress required the Air Force and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to sign an agreement to co-manage these lands. This agreement never happened. Currently, the Air Force is seeking to replace the co-management arrangement with an outright transfer to their base of the shared area plus an additional 300,000 acres. This would take 75% of the Refuge.  This year Congress will decide whether this will happen.

“We are proud that military readiness is supported by public lands where servicemen and women can hone their skills,” said Gray N. Thornton, President & CEO of the Wild Sheep Foundation. “We are firm that the conservation and recreational values of these lands must be part of that commitment. To keep it all together there must be an agreement on how and when training and land management will occur.”

From a wildlife perspective alone, there are seven big game and eight small game water developments (guzzlers) located within the proposed transfer area, and 16 water developments occur within the existing “shared management” area of the DNWR that are closed to public access for military use. Access to these sites for routine maintenance is just as essential as the water they provide the region’s wildlife. This access is already challenging as the required co-management agreement has never been reached under the current arrangement.  If the land were transferred, access would become impossible.

“Our concerns about the proposed transfer is focused on the bighorn sheep living on the refuge,” Thornton explained. “A lot of time, money, and effort have gone into putting and keeping these sheep in these mountains, and in healthy, sustainable herds. Access to monitoring these sheep as well as the hunting opportunities they provide is vital to carrying on this mission.”

Five desert bighorn units are potentially affected by the Nevada Training and Test Range (NTTR) area, representing 23 sheep tags annually. Since 2001, a total of 265 bighorn sheep tags have been made available in these five hunt areas. The revenue generated from these conservation tags is just as critical as the water projects in keeping these sheep populations thriving.

“A perfect birthday present for the refuge would be a do-over on cooperation between the Air Force and Fish and Wildlife Service,” Thornton concluded. “Working together on the proper management for multiple use of this great place is the right course of action. To that end, we thank the Nevada legislature and Congressional delegation - these members have made the same point.”

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