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Strong opposition to potential ‘onerous’ airstrip closures in Utah

AOPA submitted comments on June 11 to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) after a recent draft management plan detailed a concerning proposal in which aircraft access to 16 airstrips in a Utah national monument would be revoked.

Photo by Chris Rose.

The recently published BLM Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Environmental Impact Statement included a provision that would prohibit aircraft operations in the Bears Ears National Monument at all but two of the existing 18 airstrips. Pilots and airport advocates, bolstered by support from the Utah Back Country Pilots Association and the Recreational Aviation Foundation, are asking that public access to these airstrips be retained for recreational flying and emergency operations.

Describing these restrictions as “onerous,” AOPA’s comments argue that the airstrips have the lightest environmental footprint to this land, specifically, pointing to clear evidence that “these users practice ‘Leave No Trace’ ethics and do in fact leave these airstrips in better condition than when the users first arrived.” The airstrips also provide access to otherwise inaccessible land for individuals with mobility issues, something that Biden administration supports in its recognition of the upcoming thirty-fourth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26.

Additionally, most of these Utah backcountry airstrips predate the 1964 Wilderness Act—and as such should be retained. Also, research conducted by the UBCP did not reveal any evidence of a single noise complaint due to aircraft operations within the national monument area in the past 70 years.

“AOPA has been observing an unsettling nationwide trend of federal agencies like the BLM and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) seeking to impose unreasonable restrictions and prohibitions on aircraft operations on public lands. AOPA implores this decision-making body to reject the aircraft-restricting aspects of this RMP as we find actions such as these both unjustified and discriminatory against the aviation community,” said AOPA Northwest Mountain Regional Manager Brad Schuster.

The state of Utah has almost 8,000 certificated pilots, many of whom enjoy flying in the state because of the backcountry access to pristine regions like Bears Ears. AOPA is seeking to collaborate with the BLM and USFS, the agencies that jointly manage the Bears Ears National Monument, so that these airstrips can be preserved, and better charted, for the pilots of Utah and the countless others that hope to visit in the future.

Lillian Geil
Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, Airport

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