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Nevada Democrats, tribes oppose bombing range expansion

The proposal would allow expansion into a national wildlife refuge

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Gov. Steve Sisolak said he is backing Nevada's Democratic congressional delegation, which is opposing a military effort to widen the boundaries of a vast U.S. Air Force bombing range into a national wildlife refuge. 

Sisolak joined Reps. Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee on Thursday in opposing the plan. Other opponents include the Moapa Band of Paiutes and the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe.

The lawmakers want the House Rules Committee to strike an amendment from a national defense spending bill that would enable the expansion of Nellis Air Force Base for aerial combat and ground warfare training.

The boundary move was not included in a Senate version of the defense bill that would leave the use of adjoining lands at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge north of Las Vegas unchanged.

That version approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee last month also was missing a proposal backed by the Defense Department to dramatically increase the size of a bombing range at the Naval Air Station in Fallon.

The Fallon range was again left out of the version approved last week by the House Armed Services Committee but the Nellis expansion was reinserted over the objections of Nevada Democrats.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Titus, Horsford and Lee expressed surprise at an amendment added to the House bill by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

It would give the Air Force access to an additional 1,312 square miles of wildlife refuge for expanded bombing and training.

The existing Nevada Test and Training Range is used for warfare training by aircraft from Nellis, near Las Vegas. It covers more than 4,500 square miles and includes the remote once-secret Area 51 military base.

In a letter, Sisolak, a Democrat, said the House amendment "clearly undermines Nevada's ability to effectively manage wildlife and natural resources" in state borders.

The wildlife refuge covers some 2,500 square miles of Mojave Desert — an area the size of the state of Delaware. It is the largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 United States and is home to 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.

Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto told the Review-Journal she expects the current operating agreement between Nellis, the training range and the wildlife refuge will remain until all sides reach an agreement about future use.

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