White River withdraws helicopter training decision | VailDaily.com

White River withdraws helicopter training decision

Daily Staff Report
Vail CO, Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (May 14, 2007) – Officials for the White River National Forest have withdrawn the recent decision regarding high-altitude training for Army National Guard (Guard) helicopter pilots on National Forest System lands.

The early March decision was based on analysis in an environmental assessment and public involvement. The proposed activity by the Guard was to double the current authorized training hours to 6,000 hours per year. Through analysis, public involvement and review, the decision-maker chose the “no action” alternative to keep the number of helicopter training hours at the current maximum level of 3,000 hours.

“The Forest chose the ‘No Action’ alternative based on the analysis and the Guard’s choice to forego the proposed action,” said Forest Planner Wendy Haskins.

“Unfortunately, after releasing that decision we realized that we were not making a new decision by allowing these activities and use levels to continue.”

This training allows helicopter pilots to train under similar conditions and environments that the pilots are required to operate in times of war and to perform search and rescue missions. High-altitude combat training for aircrews is vital for the protection of pilots, according to the Colorado National Guard. The geography of lands within the White River National Forest and BLM Glenwood Springs Field Office provide unique training opportunities. In combat, aircrews who have been trained in high-altitude aviation have a higher mission success rate as well as fewer accidents.

Pilots have cited that this training has been extremely necessary to develop their skills so that they can perform under emergency conditions (e.g. activities in Afghanistan and rescue missions similar to that which occurred to rescue stranded hikers this past winter in Oregon).

The high-altitude training by the Guard is addressed and approved in the White River Forest Plan. The Colorado National Guard High-Altitude Army Aviation Training will continue under a Memorandum of Understanding that has been in place since 1987.

Under the MOU, Forest and BLM managers and Guard representatives meet annually to discuss operating plans and any necessary changes and/or recommendations to the program. Examples of some of the changes that may be incorporated in the MOU and/or Annual Operating Plan include:

– Avoiding flights over Congressionally-designated wildernesses;

– Decreasing the number of landings within recommended wilderness areas;

– Conducting operations to minimize effects wildlife and livestock;

– Avoiding “special interest areas” as much as possible.

Training is based out of the Eagle County Regional Airport in Gypsum. For security purposes, a list or map of the landing sites is not available for public review.

For more information on the decision regarding the High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site, contact Wendy Haskins, White River National Forest planner, at (970) 945-3303.

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