Military training proposal would put important Gila cultural and ecological resources at risk and threaten local economies
Mark Allison, Executive Director, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, firstname.lastname@example.org (505) 239-0906
Chris Schlabach, Co-Owner of Gila Hike & Bike, (575-740-8481)
Silver City, NM (November 7, 2017) — In response to public outcry about a proposal that could put
the Gila Wilderness and surrounding communities at risk, Holloman Air Force Base (HAFB) has agreed to host a public meeting on Nov. 14th at 6:00 pm at the Grant County Administration Building regarding their “Special Use Airspace Optimization Project.” While the public is invited to attend the meeting, public comments will not be allowed to be submitted either verbally or in writing. A public rally is planned at 5:00 pm at the Grant County Administration Building to show strong public concern over this proposal and process. This public rally will include local elected officials, business owners, sportsmen organizations, outfitters, veterans and conservation groups.
The 6:00 pm meeting in the Grant County Commission Chambers will focus on recently announced plans to conduct 10,000 fly-overs annually above the Gila National Forest, including the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas. Trainings will include low altitude overflights, at 500 feet above the national forest and 2,000 feet above wilderness. The proposal would drop 30,000 magnesium flares and toxic “defensive chaff” each year.
“Their proposal would essentially mean that all of the wilderness areas, wilderness study areas and the entire Gila National Forest would look and sound like a war zone,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild.
Conservation organizations and business interests sent a letter to Holloman on October 13, 2017 asking that the scoping period be reopened and extended and that they hold a public meeting in Silver City to explain to concerned citizens what exactly they are proposing, why it is necessary, and why they think the Gila National Forest is an appropriate place for jets and incendiary devices in an area that has suffered from drought and is home to a very dry, and brittle forest.
“As a veteran, and former Navy SEAL, I know that the readiness of our nation’s military is a top priority, including for those of us here in southern New Mexico,” said Grant County resident Brett Myrick. "But this is exactly the wrong place for screaming jets and incendiary devices. People live and visit here because of the peace and quiet of our public lands. This would ruin what I love most.”
HAFB is accepting comments on the proposal though citizens have little information to base their comments or recommendations on. Local groups are urging HAFB officials to address major topics of concern, including:
- Has Holloman investigated DOD lands to see if the objectives of their training mission can be accomplished somewhere more appropriate?
- What are the levels and frequency of noise from low-altitude training missions and from 1000 supersonic sorties over the Gila?
- What would the implications of this be to wildlife, including endangered species? For hunting? For cattle ranchers, including calving? For local businesses such as outdoor retailers and outfitters? For local governments and economies that depend on recreationists, hunters, and tourists?
- What are the impacts of magnesium flares being released over the forest each year? Do they increase the risk of wildfire?
- In the event of a flare caused wildfire, who would bear the expense and risk of firefighting activities?
- What is contained in chaff? How are toxins disbursed in wind? Are contaminants like chromium and lead included in chaff and what are the environmental consequences to human health, wildlife, waterways and the land?
- Will there be night time overflights and what will the impact be on night skies, including flares?
“Our business and local economy depend on tourism and outdoor recreation," said Chris Schlabach, co-owner of Gila Hike & Bike. “One of the distinctive features of the Gila National Forest and Wilderness is how quiet and remote it is. With low altitude flyovers, both tourism and ecosystems will suffer.”
“Now is an important time for local residents to speak up and have a voice in the process,” said State Representative and veteran Rudy Martinez. “Our community stands to be impacted greatly and we need clear information to evaluate this proposal and help the Air Force understand the concerns we have about the future of our community and the need to protect what makes this region special—our protected public lands.”
Conservation groups will provide technical scoping comments to the Grant County Commission on November 14 and ask that they be provided to Holloman AFB. Concerned citizens may also go to http://actnow.io/6l8d4C1to sign a petition opposing this proposal.
“It’s critical that community members stand up for peaceful skies and public lands in this early phase of the environmental process,” said Allyson Siwik, Executive Director of the Gila Conservation Coalition. “We need to impress upon the Air Force that the Gila Region is one of the special places that make New Mexico the Land of Enchantment and should not be considered for expanded special use airspace.”
“Veterans groups have been strong allies of ours in the battle for public lands,” said Allison. “They know that public lands offer solace and healing for many returning combat veterans. How ironic and devastating it would be to take this away from them. As we celebrate Veteran’s Day, we honor the service of those in uniform. We also think protecting America’s first Wilderness is patriotic and that there are other areas more appropriate for these training exercises.”
Written comments can be submitted to http://p2a.co/SnYGPdf.