AOPA takes fight for backcountry airstrips to new level

November 11, 2009

January 29, 2004

Appeals Deciding Officer
USDA Forest Service
Intermountain Region
324 25th St.
Ogden, UT 84401

Lesley W. Thompson
Acting Lead Forest Supervisor and Deciding Officer
50 Hwy 93 South
Salmon, ID 83467

Re: Appeal of Record of Decision, Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness Revised Wilderness Management Plan

This serves as the appeal of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) pursuit to the provisions of 36 CFR § 217.3 to the Record of Decision, Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness Revised Wilderness Management Plan (hereby referred to as ROD). AOPA is the world's largest aviation association, representing the general aviation concerns of more than 400,000 members nationwide.

In a letter dated October 23, 2003, to the FC-RONR Wilderness Coordinator, the Association outlined our opposition to any attempt to close or limit the public's unconditional use of Dewy Moore, Mile-Hi, Simonds and Vines airstrips. 1 We do not believe the Forest Service satisfactorily considered the comments of the aviation public before issuing the ROD.

As outlined in our previous letter, we believe the Forest Service's decision to maintain these airstrips for emergency use only is inconsistent with federal legislation that enacted Public Law 96-312. Furthermore, the Forest Service has failed to receive the approval of the Idaho Division of Aviation before closing the airstrips, as required by federal law.

We believe the importance of these airstrips to pilots, both in terms of regular use and safety, was greatly understated in the August 2003 Final Environmental Impact Statement. Landings in 1998 were estimated as 20 for Dewey Moore, 10 for Simonds, and 10 for Vines 2. This was followed by a column titled "Estimate by the Idaho Aviation Association" that simply said "many more." We have received comments from individuals that would suggest slightly larger utilization than the Forest Service's estimate. Therefore, we believe a larger number of the public than originally believed would be adversely impacted by a decision to limit the public's use of these airstrips.

In the ROD, the Forest Service makes a comment that "these landing strips have never met minimal safety requirements for safe landing for the public or for agency personnel." 3 We believe it is outside the purview of the Forest Service to make a determination of the safety of any airstrip, especially without the consultation of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or Idaho State Division of Aeronautics, the agencies responsible for establishing minimal safety requirements. AOPA takes strong exception to the Forest Service's assertion that these airstrips are unsafe. While we recognize that these airstrips are unique and require certain skills and proper equipment to operate from them, the Association has found no data, including investigation of the National Transportation Safety Board's information on aircraft accidents, to support the claim that these airstrips are unsafe.

In addition to limiting the use of Dewey Moore, Mile Hi, Simonds, and Vines airstrips, we note that the Forest Service has published in the November 2003 Management Plan several objectives. One objective includes a renewed intention to formally close public-use airstrips on the previously acquired property of Crofoot and Falconberry. 4 Aviation use was once permitted in this area; however, has not regularly occurred or been available since the Forest Service acquired the property. We question why the airstrips in Crofoot and Falconberry appear to be just now receiving their official closure and wonder if the Forest Service had previously reviewed this closure with the Idaho state Division of Aeronautics.

Additionally, we are concerned with the statement in the November 2003 Management Plan that the Forest Service will complete an evaluation to assess limits or controls for public-use airstrips. 5 AOPA strongly opposes any efforts to impose limits on the use of any public-use airstrip. If an evaluation is conducted, AOPA strongly suggests that the Forest Service solicit and consider comments from impacted parties.

We appreciate your re-evaluation of the points raised in our appeal to the Record of Decision, Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness Revised Wilderness Management Plan. We look forward to working with you to resolve our concerns.

Sincerely,

Andrew V. Cebula
Senior Vice President
Government and Technical Affairs