Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto: Protecting Northern Nevada’s natural resources and Native American heritage while providing for national security | NevadaAppeal.com
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Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto: Protecting Northern Nevada’s natural resources and Native American heritage while providing for national security

By U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
Catherine Cortez Masto

Churchill, Pershing, Lander and Douglas counties are home to thriving rural towns and farmers, hunters and herdsmen who have made a living off the land for generations. The surrounding hills and valleys are sacred ancestral land for many tribal communities, containing priceless artifacts and history. Northern Nevada is also home to Naval Air Station Fallon, which trains almost 13,000 Navy pilots, crew and other service members each year at the Fallon Range Training Complex. It prepares many of those men and women to go to war – to execute their mission, protect our freedom, and return home safely.

In order to better serve the large number of troops that train at the base each year, NAS Fallon is pursuing an expansion in the final version of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Over the past year, I’ve held numerous meetings with Nevada stakeholders impacted by this proposed expansion, and I’ve urged the Navy to do the same. During these meetings, many conflicts have been resolved and the Navy and rural communities around Fallon have formed many helpful partnerships. Unfortunately, the Navy is unable to do enough in its Record of Decision to adequately protect Nevada stakeholders impacted by an expansion. With the House and Senate currently working on finalizing the next NDAA, I’m releasing an alternative proposal that offers a comprehensive, pragmatic Northern Nevada rural public lands package. My draft legislation, entitled the Northern Nevada Rural Land Management, Conservation, and Military Readiness Act, will address the important needs of the service members who serve at NAS Fallon, while also prioritizing recommendations and input from conservation groups, outdoor recreation industries, farmers, ranchers, and local county and tribal governments in Pershing, Douglas, Lander and Churchill counties.

My alternative proposal includes significant protections for the environment and public lands that were determined through input by counties across Northern Nevada, the conservation community, and local tribes. It preserves the public’s right to access lands in Churchill, Douglas, Lander and Pershing counties for outdoor recreation, hunting, grazing, mining and geothermal development. It protects more than 585,000 acres of wilderness and significant tribal heritage sites by establishing, among other measures, three new National Conservation Areas, protecting designated sage-grouse habitat, and creating ten new wilderness areas. It also includes an agreement by the Navy to work with the Interior Department to ensure proper protections are put in place before it can access any of the newly withdrawn lands in Northern Nevada for expanded military training purposes. In addition, I’ve included my Ruby Mountains Protection Act in the proposal, which would prohibit oil and gas leasing in the Ruby Mountains – one of Northern Nevada’s premier outdoor recreation areas.

I’ve also prioritized protections and remuneration for tribes in rural Nevada. My proposal helps those tribal governments seeking assistance, economic investment, and compensation from both the federal government and the military. Tribes like the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe, the Walker River Paiute Tribe and the Washoe Tribe can trace their ancestors back generations on these lands. That’s why my proposal directs the Navy and Interior to ensure tribes have access to withdrawn lands around the Fallon Range Training Complex in order to care for sacred sites. It also includes an agreement for the Navy to provide the Walker River Tribe with $20 million in compensation for previous ordinance contamination and loss of their reservation lands, and establishes tribal protection areas for the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe and the Washoe Tribe at sites of religious and cultural significance.

My alternative proposal also addresses the needs of the region’s local communities through land conveyances for municipal projects and focused opportunities for future economic growth, including for the cities of Fallon, Winnemucca, Austin and Battle Mountain. In Churchill County, my proposal requires the Navy to provide direct payments and other mitigation to impacted mining claims, grazing allotments, and water rights holders. These interactions with local stakeholders will be overseen by an Intergovernmental Executive Committee, which will provide local, state, and tribal governments a public forum to collaborate with the military in providing advice and exchanging information on the management of natural and cultural resources. In other areas of Northern Nevada, my proposal also mandates that the Bureau of Land Management facilitate the transfer of select federal lands to Pershing, Lander and Douglas counties to provide land and funding for economic expansion projects, water infrastructure and more.

I’m taking this opportunity to push for legislation that balances the interests of our national security with the communities these lands support. Throughout my time in the Senate, my priority has always been to listen to the voices of my constituents – all of them. That means bringing stakeholders to the table who may disagree, and finding compromise when possible. This proposal is the direct result of those conversations with Nevadans, key stakeholders and the United States Navy; it represents the best shot for Nevadans to come together to protect public lands, build our rural economies and provide for military readiness. As this conversation moves forward, I will continue to advocate for our tribal governments and rural counties in order to find collaborative and comprehensive solutions for everyone.