Clipped From Indiana Gazette
Military gobbles up the West By ROBERT WALTERS ; WASHINGTON (NEA) — Although Sen. James A. McClure, R-Idaho, long has been a staunch supporter of the military, he was upset when the "Air Force last year announced its intention to greatly expand a bombing grange in his state. ; Predicting a "firestorm" of grass-roots opposition, McClure expressed his "grave concern" about the Defense Department's "decision to drop this proposal in our laps" without making any attempt to deal with public 'concerns. At issue is the expansion of the Saylor Creek Bombing Range, south of Mountain Home Air Force Base, from just under 110,000 acres to almost 1.46 million acres. McClure now awaits the conclusion of public hearings before taking a formal position on the substance of the proposal. It is vehemently opposed, however, by sportsmen fearful of the destruction of fishing and hunting grounds, by ranchers resistant to the withdrawal of range land on which their cattle and sheep graze, by environmentalists concerned about the destruction of critical wildlife habitat — and by residents who cannot tolerate military jets ceaselessly screaming overhead. The Air Force says the range will be operated six days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Moreover, on one day per week it will be open all night. The Committee for Idaho's High Desert predicts the "Afghanistanization of the American West." Similar schemes to take control of vast tracts of public land and air space for military use are pending in more than a dozen other states. In California, for example, the Defense Department wants to expand the 1.3 million acre China Lake Naval Weapons Center. In Montana, the Air Force and Army National Guard want more than 718,000 acres for bombing, artillery and tank training ranges. In Mississippi, the Army National Guard wants at least 32,000 acres and possibly as much as 116,000 acres of the DeSoto National Forest to expand the tank maneuvering area at Camp Shelby. (Although most of the tracts currently being sought by the armed forces now administered by the Bureau of Land Management, more than 600,000 acres of what previously were national forests are currently under Defense Department control.) (In 1940, for instance, the entire Choctawhatchee National Forest in Florida was given to the War Department and transformed into what is now Eglin Air Force Base. Federal law calls for return of the land when it is no longer needed for military purposes, but nobody expects that to occur any time soon.) The Army wants to acquire almost 665,000 acres at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, 238,000 acres at Fort Irwin in California, 139,000 acres at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, 83,000 acres at Fort Polk in Louisiana, 82,000 acres at Fort Riley in Kansas, 51,000 acres at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, 50,000 acres at Fort Lewis in Washington and more than 120,000 acres at various other bases in Alabama, Hawaii, Kentucky, Missouri and Virginia. In Nevada, a new 610,000-acre tank maneuver area near Hawthorne is being sought by the Army National Guard, while the nearby Failon Naval Air Station wants to more than double the airspace reserved for its use, adding 10,800 square miles to the 10,200 square miles already under its control. That expansion would cover portions of several national forests, mining and grazing areas, fragile ghost towns, proposed new wilderness areas and Indian reservations belonging to the Walker River Paiute and Duckwater Western Shoshone tribes. Indeed, many Westerners fear that the Defense Department is well on its way toward establishing its long desired Continental Operations Range bounded by Mountain Home AFB in Idaho on the north, Hill AFB in Utah on east. Nellis AFB in Nevada on the south and Failon NAS in Nevada on the west. In that vast airspace, military jets — some flying at supersonic speeds — would conduct thousands of missions every week, intruding upon the solitude and destroying the tranquilily that the region's residents value so highly. Newspaper Enterprise Assn.