May 8, 2013
By Benét J. Wilson
The U.S. Forest Service has extended the deadline to comment on a new planning rule that would develop and amend land management plans to include aviation. The new deadline is May 24.
On Feb. 27, the Forest Service opened a 60-day comment period to provide the public an opportunity to review its proposed planning directives, which serve as the primary basis for internal forest planning management. The directives will provide procedures and techniques to be used by resource specialists and planning staff engaged in land management planning for the national forests and grasslands.
Three years ago, AOPA and the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) were invited to take part in the U.S. Forest Service rewrite of its Forest Planning Rule, which covers how the Forest Service will plan for its forests and grasslands. AOPA, along with RAF and the Idaho Aviation Association, represented general aviation interests in a series of national planning and regional meetings.
AOPA and the Recreational Aviation Foundation urged pilots to weigh in by the original April 29 deadline on the new planning rule. After reviewing the draft 2012 Planning Rule Directives, AOPA found there was no mention of recreational aviation or airstrips, except for a brief bullet point as an inventory item in Chapter 70, Section 7l.22b. Recreational aviation is one of many transportation modes used to access national forests, and it is one of the most minimally invasive methods, leaving behind a very small footprint compared to the miles of roads and trails.
AOPA respectfully requests that the Forest Service include airstrips and recreational aviation in Chapters 10, 20, 30, and 70 of the Planning Rule Directives as appropriate, wrote John Collins, manager of airport policy in an April 25 letter to the Forest Service.
“Our colleagues at the Recreational Aviation Foundation have an excellent page-by-page summary of suggested changes that AOPA supports,” he wrote. “We also request that you continue to include aviation organizations such as AOPA and the RAF, as well as local pilot groups, as stakeholders in future discussions of these issues.”
AOPA and the Recreational Aviation Foundation pointed out that backcountry strips provide access to the land for recreational purposes like hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting, and also for firefighting, forest management, scientific study, emergency services, and search and rescue.
By implementing these changes, AOPA contends that the Forest Service will go a long way toward improving the experiences of the public in the national forests and also will improve the access to the forests for generations of aviators.
A copy of the proposal, along with background information, is available online, at any regional Forest Service office, or by calling 202/205-1449. The comment period closes 15 days after publication of a notice of availability in the Federal Register, estimated to be on or about May 8.
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