BLM: Backcountry aviation deserves protection

June 27, 2013

The “recreational experiences” of pilots who fly into Colorado’s spectacular backcountry have earned official recognition in a draft resource management plan for public lands in the state.

AOPA expressed appreciation to the Bureau of Land Management for committing to protect backcountry aviation, and several existing airstrips, in a draft resource management plan (RMP) for lands supervised by its Grand Junction Field Office. AOPA also suggested a technical change to separate regulation of the airstrips from access rules covering roads and trails.

The association submitted formal comments June 24 on the draft. The proposed final resource management plan is expected to become available for public inspection in the spring of 2014. The resource management plan was last updated in 1987, said David Ulane, AOPA Northwest/Mountain regional manager.

The draft RMP proposes four courses of action for public lands management—a BLM preferred alternative and three others—all which acknowledge the role of general aviation as a source of access to the backcountry for recreational purposes. Each alternative includes language asserting that “management actions would not close backcountry airstrips to recreational aircraft, thereby protecting the recreational experiences of aircraft users who utilize these backcountry airstrips.”

AOPA expressed satisfaction with the language, also urging a strengthening of the access protection by ensuring that the airstrips are not affected by an overlapping set of rules.

“General aviation aircraft are safe, efficient and suitable means of access to public lands, as recognized by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and other state and local public entities across the country,” Ulane wrote in AOPA’s formal comments. “We would, however, note that we have heard concerns from our members that some airstrips in the RMP area could be construed as also being part of adjoining roads or trails, and that any closure of the adjoining road or trail could also result in the closure of the airstrip. AOPA believes that airstrip facilities and access should be considered on their own separate merit and circumstances, and not as part of any Travel Management Plan addressing adjacent roads or trails.”

Ulane also pointed out that AOPA members who use the strips “are responsible, safe and dedicated stewards” who often volunteer to maintain and protect the landing facilities they use on public land.

He credited AOPA member Patrick Romano, who is Colorado’s liaison to the Recreational Aviation Foundation and a member of the Colorado Pilots Association’s backcountry committee, for playing “a key role” in including the pro-general-aviation language in the draft RMP.

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.