Grant County New Mexico ranchers have sued the Forest Service over grazing rights and the county commissioners are considering suing over a travel plan. However, they have recently aimed their fire in another direction, at the Air Force, apparently to protect the Gila National Forest from planned overflights.
The Air Force is in the early stages — what lead airspace analyst Alan Shafer called “the end of the beginning” — of developing an environmental impact statement, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, for three alternative areas in which to fly the F-16s. One of those alternatives is located over a vaguely defined swath of airspace over the Gila National Forest, near Grant County communities as well as over sections of the Gila and Aldo Wilderness areas.
When area residents discovered this alternative was being considered, hundreds quickly took up a call against the possibility. Shafer said so many Grant County residents commented, in fact, that their numbers overshadow those from anywhere else in the state — whether those commenters live near identified alternatives or not.
“We have, probably by a factor of ten, more comments from this area than any other,” Shafer told the large crowd on Thursday, which filled one of the ballrooms at the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center. “I understand what you’re saying and how important the Gila National Forest and wilderness area are to you.
It sounds like the Air Force was successful at getting a wide range of national forest interests to come together and fight a common enemy. (Or maybe the “airspace analyst” just wasn’t very good at reading the crowd’s interests.) Interestingly, there was nothing on the Gila National Forest website about it, including any indication of their role or whether they would take a position.