The chief of the U.S. Forest Service recently signed a directive that requires the maintenance of existing backcountry strips.
Following years of work and discussions, Abigail Kimbell, Forest Service chief, signed the directive, which also acknowledges “the long and proud history of aviation use and airstrips on forest service lands.”
It also asks Forest Service managers to inventory and maintain existing facilities, and to support aviation as an important recreational activity.
“Aviation has been part of our country’s heritage, both as a mode of transportation and as a means of access to remote and scenic areas for a wide variety of purposes,” the directive states. “Backcountry airstrips are an appropriate use of National Forest System (NFS) lands as they provide enhanced access for a variety of legitimate recreational activities. Recreational aircraft and backcountry airstrips can be an integral part of a balanced and efficient transportation system.”
From the earliest days of aviation, a system of backcountry airstrips has served the forest service, providing support for forest managers, fire crews, and medical evacuation aircraft. Countless backpackers, campers, boaters, and fishermen have used them to gain access to remote parts of the forests.
Airstrips require minimal disturbance of the natural landscape, while serving as internal trailheads for remote areas. As airplanes do not churn up fragile landscapes the way other vehicles do, they are considered a low-impact use.
The document also notes the importance of working with aviation groups.
“The recreation pilot communities are significantly engaged in providing funding, human resources, expertise, and equipment for backcountry airstrips on NFS lands,” it states. “The use of volunteers in joint development of Russian Flat public airstrip on the Judith Ranger District, Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana, is an excellent example of cooperative development.”
“The USFS has worked hard to better understand the desires and uses of the aviation community, and this document communicates that understanding,” said John McKenna, president of the Recreation Aviation Foundation. “We look forward to building on the partnership and the trust this document brings forth.”
For more information: www.recreationalaviationfoundation.org.