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Environmental Groups Sue U.S. Air Force Over Owyhee Canyonlands Military Training

Conservation groups from Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho have sued the U.S. Air Force. The lawsuit challenges the decision to conduct expanded low-altitude F-15 fighter jet training over the Owyhee Canyonlands. This action raises crucial questions about environmental protection and military training needs.

Legal Challenge Arises

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Conservation groups in Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho are taking legal action against the U.S. Air Force. They argue that the expanded low-altitude training of F-15 fighter jets will disrupt the peaceful nature of the Owyhee Canyonlands.

Plaintiffs’ Concerns

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The Oregon Natural Desert Association, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, and Idaho Conservation League are leading the lawsuit. They believe that increased training activities will lead to noise pollution and environmental harm over 7.5 million acres.

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Environmental Impact

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The lawsuit emphasizes the potential damage to the natural soundscape. It states, “By flying lower than the top of a tall tree, military jets will dramatically increase noise levels.”

Air Force’s Environmental Review

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In response, the Air Force claims to have conducted a thorough environmental review. They admit that some negative impacts are unavoidable, despite efforts to minimize them.

Historical Background

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Military training in the Owyhee wilderness dates back to August 1942. The Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho has been central to these operations.

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Changes in Training Protocol

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A new FAA-approved plan allows for significant changes in jet flight altitudes. Jets can now fly as low as 100 feet above ground level in designated areas.

Operational Area Adjustments

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This plan also adjusts supersonic flight floors in various military operation areas. However, it prohibits these operations over the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.

Conservationists’ Viewpoint

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The conservation groups stress that the Air Force’s mitigation measures are insufficient. They highlight the dramatic changes in flight altitudes and their potential impact.

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Public Recreation and Wildlife

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The Owyhee Canyonlands are known for their rich biodiversity and outdoor recreational activities. The groups argue that low-level flights will severely disrupt these serene natural settings.

Environmental Hazards

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Concerns are raised about environmental hazards from jet operations. Pollution from chaff and flares is a particular worry for the conservation groups.

Historical Opposition

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The Air Force faced opposition to a similar expansion in 1989. A 1999 settlement placed restrictions on their Idaho operations, highlighting past conflicts between military training and environmental concerns.

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Inadequate Public Involvement

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The lawsuit criticizes the Air Force for insufficient public engagement in Oregon and Nevada. It argues that the environmental impact study lacked comprehensive public review.

Public Concerns

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Public comments on the draft environmental impact report expressed worries about wildlife, sonic booms, and recreational activities. The groups emphasize these concerns in their lawsuit.

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Alternative Training Locations

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The lawsuit suggests that the Air Force should consider alternative locations for training. It argues that other airbases can offer similar training opportunities without impacting the unique Owyhee Canyonlands.

Seeking Judicial Intervention

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Filed in federal court in Pendleton, the lawsuit seeks to stop the expanded training flights. The groups demand a more meaningful review of the environmental consequences.

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