Sparks resident Martin Griffith may have been speaking for generations of people who treasure Nevada’s pristine scenery.
“I am here to speak for someone who couldn’t speak, John Muir,” said Griffith when introducing himself. “Muir is known as the father of national parks.”
The retired journalist who spent decades writing about Nevada events including the military, offered a glimpse of Muir and the stark beauty the naturalist saw 150 years ago during a public comment session Tuesday. The U.S. Navy sought additional feedback on its proposed 604,000-acre withdrawal for training range modernization and expansion.
In his day, Griffith said Muir climbed dozens of peaks in the Great Basin including those at Job Peak and the Stillwater and Clan Alpine mountains.
“Muir raved about the stark beauty of Nevada’s high desert and mountains at a time when most people saw it as a wasteland,” Griffith illustrated before a full house at the Fallon Convention Center.
Griffith who has extensively researched the Scottish-American naturalist for a book, said Muir wouldn’t be a big fan of the Navy which put together a comprehensive play to not only renew an existing public land withdrawal of 202,859 acres that expires in November 2021 but also to acquire hundreds of thousands of acres for training west of Fallon and in the Dixie Valley to the east. At stake could also be the removal of three wilderness study areas, which, according to the military, Congress would consider. Griffith, though, said the Navy fails to take in today’s reality.
“If Muir stood before you right now, I am certain he would be against the Navy’s plan to withdraw so much acreage of the three affected WSAs,” Griffith pointed out.
While all remarks opposed the plan, Alex Stone, said majority of the comments submitted throughout the project have been concerns.
“Many concerns, though, have been resolved through providing additional information,” he said.
Many who spoke expressed concerns the Navy was asking for too much land to be withdrawn from public use. Others suggested the Navy and the U.S. Air Force share training land in Southern Nevada to hone their missions rather than taking more land. Members from the Fallon Paiute Shoshone, Walker River and Yomba Shoshone tribes said they were upset the Navy wanted to disturb burial grounds and cultural artifacts. (See related article on their tribal reactions.)
Sharon Netherson, executive director of Friends of Nevada Wildness, spoke later and suggested the Navy allow the Bureau of Land Management to manage the Dixie Valley area because she doesn’t favor the military to assume control. She said the lands are for everyone.
During her comments, Netherson noted a number of mistakes in the Navy’s Final EIS.
“We can come together and compromise, and our delegation (Congressional representatives) has to find and work with the people affected by it,” she said.
Both Netherson and Jackee Picciani of Silver Springs said they oppose the plan in its current form. Although Picciani said she has the highest regard for those who wear the uniform, she urged the Navy to be a good neighbor and practice better stewardship over the land from what’s shown in the final EIS. She also said any removal of the Wildness Study Areas is a “slap in the face” to those who worked years to obtain that designation.
“This proposal is a land grab,” she concluded.
Dan Johnson of Reno represented Patagonia, a company that sells outdoor clothing and equipment. He said the company opposes the Navy’s range expansion, but he thanked the military because of their efforts that allowed him to speak about the proposal. He said many recreationists from hunters to hikers have something lose, and he recognized the agreement among different groups speaking at the public hearing.
“It’s unfathomable to imagine those areas picked apart and rendered inaccessible to Nevadans,” he said. “This withdrawal would set a dangerous precedent.”
Johnson said a compromise should be hammered out.
Middlegate Station owner Fredda Stevenson, who bought the establishment in the mid-1980s, said she didn’t want those in attendance to think she was against the military. She, too, said a compromise on the land withdrawal should be considered. The U.S. Highway 50 business owner fears a military withdrawal of land and subsequent denial of people to use it could hurt Middlegate.
“I don’t want it to happen again,” she said, adding the Navy has addressed some of her concerns.
Others who spoke complained about the gradual reduction of land for public use and the restrictions placed on accessing the desert, especially near Indian cultural and sacred site. Kirk Peterson said congressional action must stop the land takeover, while Bryan Ellis questioned the Navy’s restriction on mining crucial minerals that are used for national defense.
“As you continue to grab more, you chip at away at your own national security,” he said.
Speakers like Steven Smith re-emphasized the land belong to “all of us.”
Kurt Kuzincki thanked the Navy for answering many questions he had about the plan, but he expressed his disappointment with the new maps and the proposed removal of the WSAs. He urged the representatives for Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen to encourage them to protect the wilderness areas.
“If you protect those, that’s a win for conservation. I believe it’s a win for the First Nation people, and actually, I think, it’s a win for the U.S. Navy as well,” he said.
County resident Laura Berry, who also addressed road access and usage to Bravo 16 in December 2018, reiterated her concerns. Although the Navy proposes to improve Lone Tree Road to the range, Berry still doesn’t like it.
“I don’t support losing land outside my front door,” she said.
Berry also thanked the county commissioners for their concern about the roads.
Ron Bastien referred to the 80th Legislative session that introduced and passed Joint Resolution 7 to oppose the land expansion. The Assembly unanimously passed the nonbinding measure with only one dissent, but the state Senate’s Republican lawmakers all voted against it.
“Why not keep the Navy’s training areas as they are currently?” Basine asked. “Ground operations could utilize the current Bravo areas, including Bravo-17, when not actively being bombed. Weapons requiring full capability’ could be performed at the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), a land of 6,000 square miles. This has been suggested repeatedly.”
Fallon resident Duane Coy said he understands mission readiness, but he also calls the expansion an infringement on ranchers, recreationists, hunters and tourists. He also took issue on restricting tribal sites. He said the Navy needs to make its weapons work on the land it currently has.
“Navy and civilians need to work together,” he said. “We don’t need land expansion.”
Ray Martinez, who followed Coy, agreed. He said the expansion will hurt Nevadans socially, economically and environmentally.
Others who spoke also suggested the Navy and Air Force co-train on the site, but Stone later said that wasn’t proposal wasn’t feasible.
“Because it does not meet the requirements, it was not carried forward for detailed analysis,” he said in an email to LVN. “In summary, both ranges are heavily used and NTTR could not accommodate the Navy mission requirements. We do train together, but the unique Navy requirements, driven by the Carrier Air Wing training requirement and schedule require the Navy to have our own place to train.
“The Air Wing’s training schedule at Fallon is driven by aircraft carrier deployment schedules, which can be dynamic based on real world events.”