Pilots urged to review national forest planning rule

April 28, 2011

Do you like to fly to backcountry airstrips? AOPA is reminding pilots interested in preserving backcountry airstrips and using the ones located in the national forests to submit comments by May 16 on the proposed revision of the U.S. Forest Service Planning Rule.

AOPA reported March 17 on the draft rule, which was released in February following a year of national and regional roundtables and other public meetings in which AOPA participated, as did representatives of backcountry aviation organizations, the Recreational Aviation Foundation, and the Idaho Aviation Association. The main goal for the groups was to ensure that aviation was recognized as a historical use of the national forests, said John Collins, AOPA manager of airport policy.

While you don’t have to be as politically savvy as Ron Krohn of New Mexico became when advocating for access to privately owned backcountry airstrips in his state, every pilot and backcountry flying enthusiast who submits comments lets the Forest Service know that he or shewants to continue to have the same access to the forests that other users have.

“Recreational aviation use of the national forests will not happen without planning,” said Collins. “If we are to preserve our current access, forest planners must be required to take existing back country airstrips into account in the planning rule.”

AOPA and the Recreational Aviation Foundation offer some points to emphasize in your comments.

  • Recreation on Forest Service lands is growing at a time when timber harvests are declining. The public will demand a variety of recreational opportunities; therefore, recreation should be recognized as a standalone component of the plan.
  • The planning rule should address in more detail the various multiple-use categories. Recreation should be one of these broad categories.
  • Congress intended that recreational aviation and backcountry airstrips on public lands be given specific consideration in accordance with House Resolution 1473, passed on Sept. 20, 2010.
  • Recreation access methods should be set forth, including aircraft landing sites on land and water.
  • Recreation facilities should not be grouped in with general transportation systems (such as railroads and interstate highways) and utility corridors. They are generally unrelated, and require different management strategies.
  • To achieve uniformity in Forest Service planning, language in the rule must give specific direction, not rely on words like “may” and “could,” which leave too much to administrative discretion or interpretation.
  • Social and economic issues should receive the same consideration as ecological issues.
  • The planning rule should state that those writing travel management plans shall adhere to the planning rule.
  • Members can suggest that this revision of the rule give the individual citizen the freedom to recreate on Forest Service lands unless specifically denied that freedom in specific areas for good cause, to be determined periodically by the Forest Service. Such wording would put the responsibility on the Forest Service to make the case for each instance of seeking to limit access.

Pilots can submit comments online; by mail to Forest Service Planning DEIS, C/O Bear West Company, 132 E 500 S, Bountiful, UT 84010; or by fax (801/397-1605). Please include the term “planning rule” on the cover sheet or the first page of written comments. 

Members can also inspect comments already submitted.