RENO, Nev. — Conservationists are leading opposition to a proposal to triple the size of a U.S. military bombing range and training grounds in northern Nevada in a move that could gobble up more than 900 square miles (2,330 square kilometers) of public land across five counties.
The Navy wants to add more than 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) of private land to the Fallon Range Training Complex 60 miles (96 kilometers) east of Reno.
Navy officials say the additional space is needed to safely provide more realistic training using today's faster, more advanced aircraft and weaponry.
But critics say it could have ramifications for hunters, ATV riders, backcountry explorers and wildlife, all of which could face access restrictions on public land the Navy would use for newly expanded bombing and training ranges.
"This would blow a hole through the middle of the Great Basin desert, literally," said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The proposed expansion includes parts of Churchill, Lyon, Mineral, Nye and Pershing counties. The public has until Jan. 15 to comment. Seven public meetings are scheduled this month in northern and central Nevada.
The proposal, which has been in planning stages for about two years, passed a milestone earlier this month when the Navy released a draft environmental impact statement outlining alternative configurations for the expansion, the Reno Gazette Journal reports.
As part of the environmental review, the Navy proposed four alternatives, including taking no action.
Among the three alternatives for expansion, the level of disruption for existing public land users varies, with one alternative preserving existing access to Fairview Peak. However, that proposal also calls for rerouting State Route 361, the main route to the northern Nye County community of Gabbs.
The other alternatives would envelop Fairview Peak, a popular area for the public, although the levels of access and use restrictions vary, with one alternative more restrictive than the other.
The document with the proposals is more than 1,000 pages and includes maps and other details.
The expansion, Navy officials say, would help pilots and other personnel conduct missions that better simulate realistic conditions.
Older Navy aircraft tended to fly missions at an altitude of about 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) and approached targets from about four to five miles out. Modern aircraft, according to the Navy, fly at about 30,000 feet (9,150 meters) and approach targets from as far out as 12 miles (19 kilometers).
All naval strike aviation units and some Navy SEALs train at Fallon before deployment.