State and Bureau of Land Management officials, along with Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, are calling for an environmental impact statement to examine a planned Air Force bomber training route that crosses sensitive natural areas in the state.
As the Deseret News reported last week, environmentalists are worried because the proposed training run, IR-323, would bring huge jets down to within only a few hundred feet above the terrain in a swath that passes above several BLM wilderness study areas, Fish Lake, the Book Cliffs and other regions important to recreation and wildlife.Gov. Norm Bangerter asked that the Air Force write a full-blown environmental impact statement on the project, rather than the less-detailed environmental assessment that it is preparing. The request came in a letter to John Mastrianni at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., relayed by Michael E. Christensen, the state planning coordinator.
"This proposal carries large potential impact on the people and environment of Utah," Christensen wrote.
"For example, there are prime recreational areas under the flight path, such as Desolation Canyon and the San Rafael Swell. Wildlife and domestic livestock grazing habits may be disrupted."
Also, further restrictions could be placed on civilian aviation because of the military's use of the corridor, he wrote.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources pointed out that birds can be particularly vulnerable to low-level flights during the nesting and fledging seasons. They could have problems when flying too, with the jets only 500 feet off the ground.
"Several raptors, including the federally listed bald eagle and peregrine falcon and state listed `sensitive' osprey and several owl species, are in the area," says a summary of DWR concerns.
Land animals, notably big-game species, "are vulnerable to these flights during their breeding and parturition (giving birth) times,' the DWR said, noting that these are generally mid-September through November, and May through mid-July.
BLM state director James Parker wrote to the BLM, "We are of the opinion that this proposal will have a significant impact on the human environment and that an environmental impact statement will be required.
"We also feel that public meetings are required for scoping." Scoping meetings are often held in environmental studies to get comments on what the scope of the study should be.
Whether a full-blown EIS is needed is a main issue that an environmental assessment is supposed to address.
Owens wrote to the Air Force that he was dismayed about the proposed low-level flight training route. "Once again, it appears that the military has acted in total disregard of the National Environmental Policy Act and the people of the state of Utah," he added.
"The potential impacts to wildlife and Utah's recreational values require a full analysis of routes, including a `no action' alternative," he said.
Utahns have a right to weight the impacts that the routes would have on potential wilderness areas, Owens added, "as low-level flights are incompatible with the solitude experience so important to Utah's tourism."
"I am deeply concerned about impacts to recreation, threatened and endangered species, wild horses and cultural resource values."
Owens offered to provide the Air Force with information showing the location of the proposed wilderness areas included in his bill to designate 5.1 million acres of BLM land in Utah as wilderness.