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Signage for the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford is seeking to amend a defense authorization bill by striking language that would give the Air Force greater management authority over more than 800,000 acres protected as part of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge outside of Las Vegas.

Horsford’s amendment, introduced Monday with follow Democrats Susie Lee and Dina Titus, comes after the congressional delegation and Gov. Steve Sisolak criticized the language within the defense authorization bill, annual legislation that helps define the military budget and mission.

Sisolak and members of the delegation said the language in question would effectively expand the Air Force’s activities within the wildlife refuge — the largest contiguous refuge in the lower 48 states — and give the military the final say on jurisdictional disputes. 

Nevada politicians also expressed concern that the language at issue was inserted at the last minute by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, who they said did not consult the delegation or state officials.

In an interview last week, Horsford said, if approved, the language giving the military more authority would represent the “biggest loss of refuge in U.S. history.”

Horsford’s amendment, submitted to the House Committee on Rules, that the refuge would be managed as it has in past years, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service having the primary jurisdiction over management decisions. 

In a press release, Horsford said the amendment would also increase tribal access to the refuge, parts of which already overlap with the Air Force’s Nevada Test and Training Range.

“While we continue to find a unique balance of conservation and a strong national defense, this amendment will continue to support military training activities under the Air Force,” Horsford said in a statement. “As a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, I remain steadfast in the fight to protect and preserve the Refuge for our future generations to enjoy.”

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