Reps. seek congressional support for backcountry airstrips

June 28, 2010

Recreational aviation and backcountry airstrips serve a vital role for emergency flight operations, fire fighting, wildlife management, and tourism, and members of the House of Representatives are calling on their colleagues to extend their support in protecting these airfields.

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), along with House GA Caucus co-chairs Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) and Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), and Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), have introduced a resolution that “recognizes the value of recreational aviation and backcountry airstrips located on the Nation’s public lands and commends aviators and the various private organizations that maintain these airstrips for public use.”

In a Dear Colleague letter to their fellow members of Congress, the bill’s sponsors stated that these airstrips are often targeted for closure by the federal government or well-funded special interest groups, “or simply ignored by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”

“With 147,000 square miles, there are plenty of places in Montana that you just can’t get to by road,” said Rehberg, a member of the House GA Caucus. “… During a time when our lands are under threat from drought, insect infestation and wildfire, and when our economy continues to struggle, backcountry airstrips serve a valuable role for land managers and visitors alike.”

Search and rescue, fire management, research, disaster relief, and wildlife management efforts are often based from backcountry strips. The rural airstrips also provide access to beautiful, remote federal lands.

“As a pilot, I know that many of us combine flying with other recreational activities, such as hunting, fishing and camping,” Boyd said. “This legislation recognizes the important role rural backcountry airstrips are to general aviation enthusiasts and tourists across the country, and I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this resolution.”

Backcountry strips also serve as an emergency landing spot for pilots in remote areas and allow tourists to access areas, which contributes to local economies.

“These airstrips allow citizens to land near wilderness areas, and be able to hike, camp, and explore these beautiful parts of our country,” Ehlers said. “These strips provide great access, and should be preserved wherever possible so that generations ahead can continue to enjoy the wilderness areas of our nation.”

Simpson and Minnick recognized the importance of rural airstrips to their state of Idaho, which is home to roughly 60 backcountry airstrips. Minnick said that backcountry airstrips are “important to our way of life and ought to be maintained,” and Simpson noted that backcountry airstrips allow for “access to beautiful and wild places for recreation, work, and management of land and wildlife.” Simpson is ranking member of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds the U.S. Forest Service.

“Too often, backcountry airstrips receive little if any attention, so they are vulnerable to efforts to close them. This resolution introduced by Reps. Rehberg, Boyd, Ehlers, Minnick, and Simpson acknowledges the important role of these air strips and raises their profile, especially among their colleagues on Capitol Hill whose actions are critical to the airstrips’ survival,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller.