THE sight of falcons and eagles soaring over the spectacularly
beautiful canyonlands of southwestern Idaho should not be
controversial. But when those "birds" are F-16 Falcons and F-15
Strike Eagles - top-of-the-line warplanes - political feathers are
sure to fly.
The United States Air Force wants to set up two new practice
bombing ranges south of Mountain Home Air Force Base. Combat pilots
have been training in the area for years, but this would involve
more supersonic flights, more air-to-ground simulated attacks, and
a network of 32 electronic "threat emitters" to make the aerial
combat as real as possible.
While the proposed new target ranges encompass just 25,321
acres, the actual operating area in which the fighters and bombers
will dogfight and streak around at low level is some 3 million
acres - about the size of Connecticut.
One of these bombing ranges is just seconds (by jet) from the
Duck Valley Shoshone-Paiute Indian Reservation. And between the two
ranges flows the Owyhee River, whose canyons have been compared to
the Grand Canyon and are home to bighorn sheep and other wild
At recent public hearings in Idaho, environmentalists and native
American leaders spoke out strongly against the Air Force project.
Within the training range are sacred sites, including graves,
said tribal leader Lindsey Manning. "It's also a place where we
get our spiritual connection to the Creator," he said.
The Owyhee River flows north from Nevada, cutting through the
reservation and across the southwest corner of Idaho before it
enters Oregon where it flows north into the Snake River. Its
canyons are a particular favorite of hikers and river runners.
At a hearing in Twin Falls, one river guide called it "the
Sistine Chapel of all canyonlands."
Environmentalists also say the bombing ranges would impact
several endangered species, 15 wilderness-study areas, and rivers
that could be federally listed as "wild and scenic."
They are particularly concerned about the impact of jet noise,
damage from the metal "chaff" pilots use to counter simulated
enemy radar, and the potential of fires from flares dropped by
aircraft flying overhead.
Air Force officials say they've been cautious about protecting
areas of archeological or environmental significance in their
plans, which have been cut back several times since they were first
Only practice bombs without explosives (not live ordnance) will
be used, and pilots are not to break the sound barrier below 10,000
In addition, the Air Force says the proposed training areas are
particularly important in the post-cold-war era when the military
must be able to respond rapidly to potential threats anywhere in
the world. …