Earth Matters co-producer and Gila Resources Information Project executive director Allyson Siwik discusses the proposed military overflights over the Gila region with Karen Sullivan, retired US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and founder of West Coast Action Alliance, Nathan Newcomer, Earth Matters co-producer and Gila Grassroots Organizer with the NM Wilderness Alliance, and Larry McDaniel, board member with Conservation Voters NM and avid sportsman.
Karen Sullivan retired from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006, where she was a wildlife biologist (marine and estuary issues, mid-Atlantic states), endangered species biologist (headquarters office, Washington DC), legislative liaison (Alaska), then Assistant Regional Director for External Affairs (Alaska.) Aboard the 137’ research vessel, M/V Tiglax, she was part of a team that conducted baseline seabird population research in the Aleutians and Bering Sea. She worked on Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, NEPA and international affairs issues throughout her career. From 2011-2013 she and her husband crossed the Pacific from Puget Sound to New Zealand aboard their 24’sailboat. Upon their return and seeing the tremendous noise and other impacts from a massive expansion of Navy fighter jet and at-sea training, she co-founded the West Coast Action Alliance, and is a board member of the Olympic Forest Coalition.
Holloman Air Force Base is requesting special use airspace for training F-16 pilots. One of the alternatives being considered is to expand its existing airspace into southwestern New Mexico, including the Gila National Forest and Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness areas.
The Air Force initiated the scoping process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the public comment period ended on September 25. However, no local elected officials, the public, or conservation groups in Grant County were notified of this proposal and no public meeting was scheduled for Silver City, despite the potential for negative impacts in the Gila region.
Alternative #2 as currently proposed includes up to 10,000 sorties annually over the Gila and southwestern New Mexico. Although the F-16’s would observe flight restrictions to not fly below 2000 ft over Wilderness Areas, the proposal is to fly outside of designated Wilderness as low as 500 ft above ground level. The extreme noise from low elevation overflights can be frightening and disruptive to humans and wildlife.
Additionally, the proposal requests use of chaff and up to 30,000 flares annually for aircraft defense 2000 feet above ground level. These radar-disrupting systems introduce aluminum, plastic fibers, and magnesium into the environment, with potential impacts to water quality and wildlife and increased risk of wild fire.
The economy of Silver City and the surrounding areas is heavily dependent on people visiting the Gila from all over the world. The nation’s first wilderness area, and the largest in the state, attracts visitors who want to experience its quiet places, see its archeological sites, float its rivers, see its wolves, and hunt its elk. All of these activities require a quiet forest and would be disastrously impacted by 10,000 low-elevation military flights and 30,000 flares, which can devastatingly disrupt wildlife in addition to the activities of humans. This is especially troubling given the pervasive risk of forest fires.
1) Sign the petition TODAY asking the Air Force to extend the public comment period for NEPA scoping for its Special Use Airspace Optimization Project at Holloman AFB and to hold a public meeting in Silver City.
2) Write a letter to the Air Force and tell them that they must consider the input of communities that could be impacted by F-16 training operations. Tell them about your concerns with this proposal:
- Robin Divine, Air Force Civil Engineer Center, 210-925-4714, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Alan Shafer, GS-14 USAF HQ/A30T, email@example.com
- It would also be prudent to CC the Holloman Public Affairs Office, Director of Community Engagement Tom Fuller, firstname.lastname@example.org , who can also be reached at 575-572-1831 and
- Andrew “JR” Gomolak, Environmental Flight, 49th Civil Engineer Squadron, Andrew.email@example.com
3) Contact staff of Senator Tom Udall and Senator Martin Heinrich and ask that they do whatever they can to get the Air Force to consider public input from Grant and Catron Counties. Tell Senate staffers how you feel about this proposal.
- Rene Romo – Senator Udall’s Military Affairs assistant in the Las Cruces office. firstname.lastname@example.org or 575-526-5475
- Cynthia Hull – Senator Heinrich’s office, email@example.com or 575-523-6561
4) Although the public comment period ended on September 25, submit your scoping comments on the Environmental Impact Statement to Holloman AFB at: http://www.hollomanafbairspaceeis.com/Comments.aspx
5) Sign the petition from the NM Wilderness Alliance – Take Action to Oppose Military Overflights over the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas
More information on this proposal is available at: http://www.hollomanafbairspaceeis.com/Default.aspx
More information on impacts of fighter jet training operations:
- West Coast Action Alliance
excellent resources on noise, wildlife and habitat, fire danger, use of chaff and flares, and jet emissions.
- Naval Exercises Add Trillions of Pieces of Plastic Debris to Oceans
more info on military’s use of chaff and flares.
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