Backcountry aviation ‘essential’ in national forests

May 18, 2011

As more people seek out the national forests for outdoor recreation, backcountry airstrips provide a key gateway to those special places, making them “an essential part of a forest transportation system,” AOPA said in formal comments submitted May 16 on the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed Forest Service Planning Rule.

From giving access to remote areas for recreation, forest management, and humanitarian missions to enabling emergency evacuations or giving limited-mobility visitors a chance to enjoy the backcountry, aviation plays a vital role, AOPA said. The association’s formal comments capped AOPA’s participation in a year-long dialog on the proposed rule that included four roundtable discussions and a national forum. Through the process, the association has worked closely with the Recreational Aviation Foundation. The draft rule was released in February.

Recognition of the stand-out value of recreational aviation and backcountry airstrips located on public lands came in the form of a U.S. House resolution passed on Sept. 14, 2010, wrote AOPA Manager of Airport Policy John Collins in his letter delivering AOPA’s comments on the proposed planning rule.

“Given the multitude of recreational uses and activities, we suggest that the Planning Rule make Outdoor Recreation a standalone section and enumerate uses and access methods to include aircraft landing sites on land and water that must be considered by the responsible official,” he wrote. The planning rule’s draft environmental statement also identified outdoor recreation as an important component of national forest management, Collins said.

AOPA’s comments proposed that the Forest Service add specific language referring to airstrips to a section of the rule that defines multiple uses that must be provided in the national forests.

One area of concern, Collins wrote, was the apparent absence of coordination of the planning rule with other required planning actions, such as travel management plans required in each Forest Service unit. He offered as an example of the potential consequences of that problem the cases of municipalities whose land-use planning fails to take airport master plans into consideration, eventually resulting in adverse impacts for those communities’ airports.

Planning officials will evaluate all of the approximately 680 formal comments received, with publication of a final rule expected by late 2011, Collins said.

“Recreational aviation is one of many uses of the national forests, and we want to continue to see access to the national forest airstrips be available to our members,” he said.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.