The Air Force is running into opposition from both environmentalists and peace activists over plans for a training route through southern Utah wilderness study areas and increased night flights in the western desert.
The Utah Wilderness Association is rallying its membership against the Air Force's proposed training route along the Green River through Desolation Canyon and past Capitol Reef National Park and Fish Lake National Forest.The planned route begins near Ouray along the Green River, travels south through Desolation Canyon, then veers westward across the northern San Rafael, past Capitol Reef National Park and Fish Lake National Forest, crosses Notch Peak and the House Range before joining with existing western desert routes.
In all, nine wilderness study areas and several potential wild and scenic rivers would be directly affected along the route, the UWA complains.
While the Air Force plans an environmental assessment on the proposed corridor, the UWA wants a full-scale environmental impact statement - and a series of public hearings.
Gary Macfarlane, conservation director for the UWA, said Wednesday that his group doesn't think an environmental analysis is adequate considering the probable impacts to wildlife, recreation, tourism and cultural resources the bomber corridor will have.
"We think several things should be re-looked at, particularly the need for additional airspace in Utah (by the Air Force)," Macfarlane said.
Meantime, the military watchdog group Downwinders likes the idea of a jet fighter guidance system using infrared and laser technology, but doesn't care for how it will be employed in the western Utah desert.
"From what I can tell, they should have it. It works quite well and they should use it," said Downwinders spokesman Steve Erickson.
He was referring Wednesday to LANTIRN, an acronym for low-altitude navigation and targeting infrared for night.
Using LANTIRN, an F-16 pilot can fly at altitudes as low as 200 feet at night, spotting terrain changes on his monitors and targets such as motor vehicle convoys, airfields, bridges and tanks.
To test the equipment and train pilots in its use means more night flights from Hill Air Force Base over the Utah Test and Training Range and the Army's Dugway Proving Ground, according to Erickson, who claims a 40 percent increase in such flights.
But John Raccasi, chief of the Plans, Programs and Resources Division at Hill, has told Erickson, "The differences you cite are a function of changes in methodology of accounting for the type of missions," or no real change in the number of night flights over the western desert region.
An environmental assessment on the new use of the range will be released sometime next month. "It will be put out for a public comment period, but we will push them to do more than that. We'd like a full environmental impact statement," Erickson said.
"There is a potential for a large increase in the number of flights," he said. And at least one problem would be increased aircraft noise levels.
Further, the impacts of activities over Dugway Proving Ground have significant impact beyond post boundaries, "affecting public and private lands, wildlife, livestock and people" living in the remote region, Erickson said.