The Air Force has zeroed in on a 12,000-acre target area for training south of Mountain Home after years of struggle.
In a long-awaited final environmental impact statement, it picked Juniper Butte: the farthest of three proposed sites from the Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the Nevada border.
At the same time, the Air Force plans to stretch military air space to cover the Jack’s Creek area, a move opposed by environmentalists because of its bighorn sheep population.
Craig Gehrke, the Wilderness Society’s Idaho director, said he expects environmentalists to file suit and fight the project in Congress.
Expansion of training for Mountain Home Air Force Base is scheduled to begin late this year, Idaho’s congressional delegation said in a joint announcement Thursday of the final impact statement.
The aim is to give pilots of the base’s 366th Composite Wing more realistic practice for war without having to fly to existing ranges in Utah and Nevada.
The plan awaits a final Air Force decision March 9.
The new proposal was attacked by conservationists, who have been fighting a series of progressively smaller ranges for one of the last large wild areas left in the country.
The latest plan is the first to reach the final stage: A 25,000-acre range in the Owyhee Canyonlands was dropped by the Air Force in 1995 after fierce opposition.
“The bombing range and supersonic battlefield still negatively impact wildlife and recreation,” said Roger Singer, of the Sierra Club’s Middle Snake Group. “It still creates more low-level and supersonic flights over a couple million acres of Idaho.”
Jets from Mountain Home practice at the 109,000-acre Saylor Creek Training Range south of the base. At public hearings in June, the Air Force proposed three sites: Juniper Butte, 25 miles southeast of Saylor Creek; Clover Butte, 22 miles south of Saylor Creek; and Grasmere, 20 miles north of the Duck Valley reservation.
The Shoshone-Paiute Tribes long have complained about sonic booms from supersonic flights.
Col. Billy Richey, training expansion project officer, said the Air Force eliminated the Grasmere site because of its proximity to the reservation.
Clover Butte was closer to the Bruneau-Jarbidge rivers canyon, a prime recreation area, so Juniper Butte had the least impact, he said.
The Juniper Butte site was added as an option upon the recommendation of the Bureau of Land Management in 1996. Richey said impacts on recreation in the Little Jack’s Creek area would be reduced by a ban on flights below 5,000 feet on weekends in May and June.
Congress would have to pass legislation submitted by the BLM to set aside the site’s 12,000 acres for military use. Construction would start in 1999, Richey said, and would take about three years.
xxxx WHAT’S NEXT For the Air Force training range to go forward, Congress will have to pass legislation submitted by the BLM to set aside the site’s 12,000 acres for military use. Construction would start in 1999, and would take about three years.