We recently learned that Holloman Air Force Base (AFB) is planning military training exercises in the area on a scale that would devastate the peace, quiet and solitude that make our state’s largest and oldest Wilderness Area so special. We discovered that they plan to conduct 10,000 sorties annually above the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas. Yes, you read that right: an average of almost 30 flights each day. We understand that these “overflights” will be low altitude jets screaming only 500 feet above the National Forest and 2,000 feet above Wilderness. What’s more, they propose to drop 30,000 magnesium flares each year and “defensive chaff” while doing so. Their proposal would mean
that all of the wilderness areas, wilderness study areas and the entire Gila National Forest would look and sound like a war zone. The U.S. Air Force is obligated to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which requires public involvement. They are preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to assess the potential environmental effects of “optimizing the training airspace at Holloman AFB”.
They have not fulfilled that obligation. Holloman AFB did not notify us of this proposal, nor did they inform the Grant or Catron County Commissions. They didn’t bother to have a public meeting in Silver City, the population center closest to their proposed activities. In fact, the
public scoping period had already closed by the time we discovered what they were trying to do. Had it not been for a vigilant supporter bringing
this to our attention, this preposterous plan might have gone unchallenged.
WHAT WE ARE DOING ABOUT IT
We immediately drafted a letter to Holloman AFB, 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 Wilderness is an appropriate place for supersonic jets and incendiary devices. We got the word out to partner organizations and businesses affected and within 48 hours secured endorsements from dozens of groups. We also reached out to other groups that are typically hostile to our efforts. We think there is common cause on this issue. We immediately contacted our congressional delegation to bring this to their attention and to request their assistance scheduling a meeting with Holloman officials.