The RAF showed up in Washington, DC in force during the first week of November to particpate in a National Academy of Science (NAS) Transportation synthesis study on threats to the preservation of backcountry airstrips on federal lands. RAF State Liaisons Steve Durtschi of Utah, and Mark Spencer of Arizona were joined by RAF President John McKenna and Montana Liaison Ron Normandeau for two and-a-half days of additional meetings with Congressmen, their staff, and decision makers and leadership within the USFS and BLM.
Following the full-day NAS meeting, a two-hour meeting with the USFS centered around the need for clear and concise policy on backcountry airstrips, funding, and maintenance. The outcome was encouraging and positive, with solutions being offered by both the USFS and RAF. Work will begin on a Memo of Understanding (MOU) defining the mutual goals of both organizations.
Another exciting idea was the formation of a working group that would meet several times each year to discuss and arrive at solutions to ongoing challenges as they arise. A luncheon meeting with Art Hineman of the Fire and Aviation team was held. Mr. Hineman will delegate a formal liaison from the Fire and Aviation team to work with the pilot community.
Your RAF team then completed back-to-back visits with staff from the offices of Senators Flake, Tester, and Baucus, as well as a visit in Congressman Ron Barber’s office. Each meeting was encouraging, and provided an opportunity to share the positives of backcountry aviation, as well as the needs. We discussed issues facing the aviation community, including wilderness and wilderness study areas, funding, public perceptions and other challenges. We ended this day meeting with Missouri Congressman Sam Graves, who is a strong supporter of all things GA.
Day three found us at the BLM offices, meeting with Division Chief Andy Tenney and Deputy Division Chief David Howell, both of the Recreation and Visitor Services Division. Like the USFS meeting, this meeting was positive and upbeat. It should pointed out, however, that the first subject raised was the recent incident at Mexican Mountain, Utah, involving inappropriate shooting debris. This quickly turned positive as they had heard of the immediate reaction from the pilot community. The discussion then centered on the desire to have a formal MOU between the RAF and BLM. They explained that their internal BLM guidance is to regard airstrips as similar to any other mode of transportation. Mr. Tenney and Mr. Howell were also interested in the idea of a working group meeting a couple times each year, and suggested their travel management personnel would participate.
In discussions with Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, the RAF delegation learned that he is working on an initiative to bring closure to the Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) in Utah. We have engaged in this process along with our friends at the Utah Backcountry Pilots Association (UBCP). Both the RAF and UBCP will be involved and will keep you up to date on this development, as well as the development of Memos of Understanding with the USFS and BLM. We look forward to participating in working groups with these federal land managers and key decision makers to fulfill our mission.