Burrow Bites

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Urban Bird Opposes Destruction of Desert Bird Habitat

Urban Bird Foundation’s Burrowing Owl Conservation Network program continues to safeguard critical desert habitat for burrowing owls and other native birds by joining the Center for Biological Diversity in opposing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would give control of approximately 850,000 acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the U.S. Air Force. The Desert Refuge is the largest refuge in the lower 48 and home to a wide range of rare and threatened species, including bighorn sheep, burrowing owls and desert tortoises. This massive land grab would allow some of the West’s most pristine habitat to be destroyed, and it’ll set a devastating precedent for giveaways of our national wildlife refuge system.

The letter sent to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi states:

The Desert Refuge is the largest wildlife refuge in the contiguous United States. The refuge’s 1.6 million acres provide important habitat for the iconic Desert Bighorn Sheep and hundreds of other bird, mammal, reptile, and fish species. USFWS has managed approximately 1.4 million acres of the refuge as de facto Wilderness since 1974. Notably, the lands are home to ancient plants, animals, petroglyphs, and other sites of immeasurable cultural and historical value to local ingenious tribes. As you know, over 800,000 acres of the refuge—known as the Joint Use Area (JUA)—overlap the Air Force’s Nevada Test and Training Range. For years, the Air Force has sought to take control of the JUA from USFWS.

On July 1st, the House Armed Services Committee approved an amendment from Rep. Rob Bishop (UT-1) to transfer primary control of the JUA to the Air Force. The scheme would allow the Air Force to conduct war games and training activities, develop construction projects and undertake other harmful ground disturbing Activities within Desert Refuge. These activities would occur without any USFWS oversight.

The Members of the Nevada Congressional delegation have stated their clear opposition to the new language: “This amendment would directly threaten over 840,000 acres of unique plant and animal habitats in Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge…If this matter is not addressed prior to the legislation coming to the House floor, we will file an amendment to strike these provisions.”

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak has announced his opposition to this proposal, as have other Nevada leaders. These statements reflect the same frustration and opposition to previous proposed takeovers. Just last year, the Nevada State Legislature overwhelmingly opposed any Air Force takeover—as have the Moapa Band of Paiutes and the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada. We stand with the Nevada Congressional delegation, state leaders, indigenous tribes, and millions of supporters across the Country by urging you to protect the Desert Refuge. It is imperative that the language transferring control of the refuge to the Air Force is removed before the NDAA passes the House of Representatives.

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