Aggressive helicopter training proposed for North Cascades wilderness

Aggressive helicopter training proposed for North Cascades wilderness

Conservation Northwest / Jul 29, 2015 / Forest Field Program, National Forests, Protecting Wildlands

WILD NW action alert #248: Tell the Army that sensitive ecosystems and cherished wilderness aren’t appropriate for helicopter training plan. 

The U.S. Army has proposed extensive helicopter training in the North Cascades to practice low-elevation flyovers and high altitude landings, including at sites in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, near cherished backcountry camping spots and within a mile of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Army’s proposal would authorize low elevation helicopter travel to and from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM, near Olympia) to training sites. Low elevation flights, as low as 500 feet and down to 25’ in the North Cascades training area, could occur day or night, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with the exception of federal holidays. Most of the exercises would likely occur at night. The exercises could last for up to four hours and include air traffic from as many as seven Apache, Chinook or Blackhawk helicopters.

The proposed low-elevation flights and intense training activities have the potential to kill or significantly disrupt or displace imperiled wildlife or render their habitat inhospitable or unusable. Helicopter training and travel must avoid habitat that supports sensitive, endangered or recovering wildlife species such as the Canada lynx, spotted owls and wolverines found in the proposed training area.

Additionally, this plan has the potential to negatively impact outdoor recreation and enjoyment in the Cascades, something that’s vital for local economies and for our Northwest natural heritage. Imagine camping at a remote alpine lake and being awoken by seven cacophonous helicopters in the middle of the night! It would be frightening and dangerous, for people as well as wildlife.

We empathize with the need to adequately train our men and women in uniform. However, the wilderness and wildlands of the North Cascades is not the appropriate place to do it in this manner. 

In addition to serious ecosystem and human impacts, the North Cascades does not make sense for this sort of high-altitude helicopter training. Unlike mountains in Colorado and Alaska, the non-volcanic Cascade peaks are simply not high enough to mimic or train for conditions found in places like Afghanistan.

Please submit a comment by Nov. 3rd opposing this proposal

Use our direct comment form, or submit comments via email to:

Hard copy comments can also be mailed to:
Department of the Army
Directorate of Public Works
ATTN Environmental Division (NEPA)
2012 Liggett Ave, Box 339500 MS 17
Joint Base Lewis-McChord WA 98433-9500

Suggested Talking Points:

  • It’s important that the army and other military personal receive excellent training and preparation. However, the Northwest Aviation Operations Off-base Helicopter Training proposal is misguided, risky and inappropriate as currently proposed, with a high potential to negatively impact sensitive ecosystems, threatened or recovering wildlife and human visitors and users in the North Cascades. Please reject this proposal.
  • Low elevation flights from JBLM may degrade or render inhospitable habitat protected within Late-Successional and Riparian Reserves on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, Gifford Pinchot, and Okanogan-Wenatchee national forests, habitat protected within Spotted Owl Emphasis Areas and around spotted nest sites on state forests, critical habitat or recovery areas designated under the Endangered Species Act, lands identified as Priority Habitat by the state, Inventoried Roadless Areas, and suitable mountain goat habitat. These areas are essential to the protection and recovery of Washington’s wildlife, and should be avoided by aircraft and excluded from training activities.
  • As proposed, Mountain Training Areas are located in areas inhabited by Canada lynx and wolverine, and within the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery Area where recovery efforts are underway. These animals use high elevation areas for denning, reproduction, and foraging. Mountain goats, which have declined statewide, also occur and overwinter in these high-elevation environments. Spotted owls inhabit forests adjacent to training areas within travel zones. Disturbance near dens or other habitat areas has been shown to displace or disrupt grizzly bears, wolverines, mountain goats and spotted owls, and should be avoided.
  • The Helicopter Training Areas in southwest Washington occur on or proximate to DNR-managed state lands that are critical to marbled murrelet recovery. Marbled murrelets are extremely sensitive to human disturbance, and the proposed training would likely disturb marbled murrelets during nesting season. Murrelet populations also face risk of aircraft collision during daily migrations from forest nesting grounds and foraging areas in the Pacific. Marbled murrelet habitat and areas between murrelet nesting and foraging areas should be avoided.
  • High elevation sub-alpine and alpine areas in the North Cascades are highly sensitive to disturbance, with thin soils and short growing seasons. Intense disturbance from landing and training actions may cause significant and irreversible damage.
  • In addition to likely legal violations of The Wilderness Act of 1964, this proposal is controversial and could potentially and significantly harm iconic wildlife. It should be rejected outright or subject to additional public meetings and deeper scrutiny through an Environmental Impact Statement.