Pressure from key members of Congress and AOPA's Washington, D.C., staff has forced the U.S. Forest Service back to the table to discuss the future of backcountry airstrips in central Idaho.
The Forest Service had wanted to close four airstrips, Dewy Moore, Mile-Hi, Simonds, and Vines, located in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness but is required by law to obtain the approval of Idaho's Division of Aeronautics before any such closure. The state denied approval. So instead, the Forest Service planned to restrict access at the four strips to "emergency use only."
The Idaho Division of Aeronautics contacted AOPA for assistance. In written comments to Wilderness coordinators, AOPA told the Forest Service that restricting access to the airstrips violated the intent of Congress when it passed the Central Idaho Wilderness Act (public law 96-312).
AOPA then learned that, despite having received several hundred written comments that favored by nearly 4-1 keeping the airstrips open, the Forest Service was still planning on closing the airstrips for all but emergency use.
At that point, AOPA turned to Idaho's members of Congress including Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Senator Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), and Congressman C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-Idaho) to help convince the Forest Service of the need to preserve the backcountry airstrips.
As a result of this pressure, the regional Forest Service Office has approached the Idaho Division of Aeronautics to discuss possible alternatives for the airstrips.
"Without AOPA's assistance to take this issue to the highest levels in Washington, D.C., I doubt we would have made it this far," said Idaho Aeronautics Director Bob Martin. "AOPA's commitment to backcountry airstrips really came through for us."