Two nearly identical federal bills to establish a Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument have passed out of committee and are working their way through Congress. In addition to community groups, environmentalists, politicians and researchers with a stake in Tule Springs, the top brass at Nellis Air Force Base is also closely watching the bills’ progress.
Turns out the 22,650-acre area isn’t just home to thousands of fossils and sediments that hold valuable information about the last two Ice Ages; it’s also the on-ramp to the Nevada Test and Training Range, an elite sky zone used for drills by pilots from all over the world. Planes take off from Nellis and Creech, then fly over the site to the training range.
For the air corridor to remain functional, the land beneath it must be devoid of certain kinds of development, says Col. Barry Cornish, air base wing commander at Nellis. Residential neighborhoods are out of the question, for instance, because of jet noise. While solar arrays are OK, wind turbines and solar towers present challenges to air traffic.
The parts of the bills that would establish the national monument align well with the Air Force’s interests, Cornish says. But the other sections, which convey public land to entities including North Las Vegas and UNLV, are vague on the subject of future development.
“We must ensure both public safety and national security are taken into account,” Cornish says.