Lawmakers and environmentalists are up in arms over the future of military training grounds in the West. The excitement began this May when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., unveiled a proposal to allow the military use of 3 million acres of public land in Arizona and New Mexico.
The public land includes
the McGregor Range and the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.
The military has used it, however, since 1986, when the Military
Training Land Withdrawal Act turned over 7 million acres to the
Army and Air Force. That law expires in two years, and officials
from the departments of Interior and Defense have been working with
the public to decide if the military should stay beyond
But shortly before the departments finished
an environmental impact statement on the training grounds, McCain
attached a rider to a defense authorization bill. His proposal
would give the military access to more of the Cabeza Prieta refuge
and turn over 3 million acres to the military
Critics said McCain jumped the gun.
"It (McCain's rider) circumvented the public comment period," said
Kristen Ludecke, a spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. "We
didn't think it was fair for Congress to haul off and decide on
their own without giving the local community a voice in the
Bingaman convinced McCain to withdraw
his proposal, though McCain spokesman Larry Slate says 80 percent
of public comment on the EIS supported setting aside the land for
the military. The decision is now in the hands of the Clinton
administration. It's expected to review the finished environmental
impact statement and present a proposal to Congress by July 1.
In the meantime, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., is
trying to work language into the final bill that would remove the
McGregor Range from Interior Department jurisdiction and give it to
the Defense Department. Responds Grace Portorti, who works for the
Rural Alliance for Military Accountability, "Putting the Defense
Department in charge of land management is like asking a plumber to
fly a 747."
* Keri Watson and Greg