Area 51 secrets butt heads with public land concerns — Part 4

Area 51

Reporter Richard Urey looks into land use in Southern Nevada by the federal government. He interviews then Congressman (later Senator) Harry Reid about wildlife and other issues involving Area 51 and the Nevada Test Site. Aired on July 12, 1984, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas as “Area 51, The 30 Year Secret.” Part 4 of a 4-part series.


Area 51 is adjacent to the north end of the Nevada Test Site. The Air Force occasionally expands the territory for security reasons, but not everybody is happy about it.

A 1984 Air Force expansion onto land already patrolled by armed guards prior to any congressional authorization, took in the Groom Mountain range. Air Force officials refused to say if the expansion would merely serve as a security buffer, or as a test area.

The land acquisition proposal surfaced to public view only a few months before taking effect. The acreage had been tacked onto the Air Force land-lease renewal several years before, and filed with the Interior Department in Washington, little more than a surveyor’s notation.

The Bureau of Land Management has jurisdiction over the territory, but the district manager for the BLM in Las Vegas wasn’t told about it until sometime in 1983.

Ranchers and miners using the land next to Area 51 became alarmed about possibly losing their investments. Others began to worry about the loss of recreational opportunities. Nowhere else in the region is there the variety of wildlife, vegetation and natural springs. Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Citizens Alert are among the groups who want the Defense Department to provide funding to purchase private lands that could offset the loss. Many see the Area 51 issue as a test case, anticipating other military land withdrawals near Fallon, Churchill, Ely and Elko. 

U.S. Rep. Harry Reid says Nevada should get something in return if the federal government closes access to lands as it did in 1984. (KLAS-TV)

Representative Harry Reid shares the ranchers’ concerns, “What we’re concerned about is not what’s going on in the area. We know that it’s all super secretive. But what we’re concerned about is, Nevada has so few areas where you can have chukar and quail and wildlife, and this is one of them. What do we get in return?” Reid asked.

Reid is preparing for House Interior subcommittee hearings to be chaired by Rep. John Seiberling.

“John Seiberling is also interested in that, and that’s going to be part of the direction of the hearing he’s going to hold,” Reid said.

A map shows the area that became part of Area 51. Groom Mine and a road built by Lincoln County’s Sheehan family are visible on the map.

Reid inspected Area 51 to confirm the briefings he’d been given on top secret programs to be sure the land withdrawal was justified. He came away satisfied that it is but will say nothing about what’s going on there.

See the entire series:

The History of Area 51

“I also don’t think that it’s proper, when we’re involved in a life and death struggle with the Soviet Union and maybe other people in the world, to make everything we do public,” said Reid.  

Reid is confident that congressional oversight committees that monitor top secret programs like Area 51 are effective in balancing public rights and the Pentagon’s need for secrecy.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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