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For Immediate Release

AUGUST 20, 2013

New Mexicans Ask the Federal Government to Consider Alternatives and Engage the Public

For more information, contact:
Judy Calman, Attorney, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, 505-843-8696 x102
Arian Pregenzer, Affected Landowner, 505-620-1591
Michael Casaus, The Wilderness Society, 505-417-5288

Albuquerque, NM – Today, local residents, forest users, and other stakeholders asked the federal government to consider alternatives to its proposal to expand military operations on the Cibola National Forest in the Bear Mountains, north of Magdalena in Socorro County. The Forest Service is proposing to allow the military to conduct training exercises on national forest lands for possibly the next twenty years, and maybe longer. The training exercises would entail 4,378 flights and 26,230 maneuvers each year. This involves helicopter takeoffs and landings, flying in closed patterns over large areas, hovering just a couple of hundred feet off of the ground, and dropping of personnel or equipment. Additionally, ground operations are proposed, which include the firing of pyrotechnics such as simulated surface to air missiles, ground bursts, flares, and smoke grenades – all on public land.

The proposed location includes part of a Forest Service Roadless Area, and provides in island of wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities. It is home to a variety of wildlife, including burrowing owls, mule deer, desert big horn sheep, black bear and elk.

“I understand that the military must train its personnel, but simply can’t understand why the Defense Department doesn’t use its own land for this important mission, given that there are over 3 million acres of military lands in New Mexico set aside for this very purpose,” wondered Arian Pregenzer, a nearby landowner. Kirtland AFB, Holloman AFB, White Sands Missile Range, and Fort Bliss control nearly 5,500 square miles in New Mexico – about the size of Connecticut.

“With so much land under its control, surely the military can find a few hundred acres to use for this training,” concluded Pregenzer. “Yet the proposal does not even consider the option of conducting training exercises on military land.”

In a letter to the Forest Service conservation groups including New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Backcountry Horsemen of New Mexico, Sierra Club, New Mexico Sportsmen, and The Wilderness Society, asked the agency to consider alternatives that would provide training opportunities and better protect the National Forest and its wildlife. This includes considering an alternative that would site the military training exercises on military lands.

The letter also asked the Forest Service to extend the comment period because 30 days was too short a time for anyone to read and absorb the 700+ page proposal. Lastly, the groups requested that the Forest Service hold public meetings to provide additional opportunities for stakeholders to learn about and comment on the proposal, since few nearby landowners were aware of the proposed military operations. Yesterday, the Forest Service refused these written requests.

“Twenty years of intense military operations on our national forest land is a big deal,” exclaimed Judy Calman of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “It certainly deserves a conversation with nearby residents and forest stakeholders, and a more thoughtful analysis.”

For more information, see http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php?project=5375. In particular, see the summary tables and maps in the Environmental Assessment Volume 1, Chapters 2 and 3.