Environmental groups have joined the Clinton administration in a full-frontal assault against backcountry airstrips. Using deceptive language and outright inaccuracies, the groups have attacked Senator Mike Crapo's (R-Idaho) amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill that would prohibit federal funds from being used to close airstrips on land controlled by the departments of Interior and Agriculture.
The Wilderness Society now claims the Forest Service "traditionally uses a formal decision-making process that includes public involvement" before deciding to close an airstrip. But AOPA notes that's not true because there is nothing in current law that requires such public involvement.
The Wilderness Society broadens its attack claiming that "maintenance of an airstrip will have impacts beyond the area actually occupied by the airstrip." The group goes on to claim that maintenance equipment "can be felt, heard, seen, and even smelled in a large area around the airstrip."
The Clinton administration now claims backcountry airstrips are dangerous because GA pilots might try to use landing strips that should only be used by "skilled, backcountry pilots in specially equipped aircraft." Furthermore, the administration believes such a provision would "indirectly support illegal activities on the public lands." Apparently, administration officials are now concerned that remote airstrips in areas such as Idaho and Montana would be used for "drug drops" and "illegal alien entries" if they were not closed. The legislation was reported out of the House and Senate in June. A conference committee meeting is expected to resume this week to resolve differences between the respective versions. AOPA is working with Congress to make sure lawmakers understand the truth about backcountry airstrips. (See AOPA's issue brief.)
September 6, 2000