by The Herald Editorial Board
Published: Sunday, August 9, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
(reprinted with permission)
Our national forests have long been managed for multiple uses. Congress made the customary practice official in 1960 and specified that national forests would be administered for their renewable resources of timber, rangeland and water as well as for recreation opportunities and wildlife preservation.
We’re struggling to see where “military training” fits in among those uses.
Following the U.S. Navy’s proposal to conduct electronic warfare training for crews of EA-18G Growler jets based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in parts of the Olympic National Forest and on state Department of Natural Resources land, the U.S. Army is now proposing the use of areas within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, at least one of those on the boundary of a wilderness area, for the training of helicopter crews from Joint Base Lewis McChord.
The Army is seeking to establish seven mountain training areas on the eastern edge of the North Cascades National Forest, in a larger area that stretches from near Leavenworth north to the Canadian border. The training area would allow, the Army told the Seattle Times, up to 75 practice landings a month at seven landing training areas throughout the year. The aircraft involved include the massive twin-rotor Chinook, and the smaller Black Hawk and Apache helicopters.
A coalition of 20 environmental and recreational groups, including area Audubon Society chapters, The Mountaineers and Washington Trails Association, in their comment to the Army on its proposal, recognizes the need for the military to provide training, but faults the Army’s proposal in several respects:
Other than a standard no-action option, there are no other alternatives proposed than the seven mountain training areas listed.
One of the training zones appears to sit on the boundary or within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, west of Leavenworth. Three of the six landing zones are near other wilderness areas, including the Pasayten, Lake Chelan, Glacier Peak and Henry M. Jackson wildernesses. Wilderness areas, under the federal act that created them in 1964, are specifically off limits to motorized vehicles and the landing of aircraft.
Each of the seven training areas would be located directly on heavily used trails, including the internationally revered Pacific Crest Trail, within the national forest, with several located as close as a mile to trailside campgrounds. One landing site is less than 10 miles from the North Cascades National Park.
Wisely, the Army has extended the public comment period for its environmental assessment of its proposal until Sept. 4. Comments can be emailed to email@example.com.
At the very least, the Army will need to cross off its list the one landing zone within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, and it should also search out other more suitable sites that don’t conflict with the quiet enjoyment of trails and campgrounds. As well, those landing zones can’t be allowed to adversely affect wildlife habitat areas.
These lands were set aside to benefit all, but when a proposal, especially a use not originally intended, threatens one or more historic uses, namely recreation and wildlife, the answer ought to be no.