Don't trust the military

  Dear HCN,


While the Air Force is busy in Nevada, giving lip service and meeting time to ecosystem management and touchy-feely sound bites, it is forging right ahead with the destruction of the Owyhee Canyonlands of Idaho (HCN, 3/15/99).


No matter that a broad coalition of public-interest groups and a majority of Idaho citizens oppose this action to create a new supersonic battlefield and bombing range. The Air Force got what it wanted by using strong-arm political tactics. Their efforts hinged on a tireless argument that, despite the opinion of Dave Rubenson of RAND, is still prominently used to this very day: that the Air Force project is needed for national defense. The Cold War may have ended, but the military is still "the spoiled child of American society," Rubenson says, and nowhere is this more evident than in Idaho. Just this month, promised funding to monitor the effects of the new bombing range on wildlife was shifted to fund other Air Force equipment. Additionally, they have been caught with their pants down on more than one location where absolutely no surveys for wildlife, cultural and other resource values had been conducted. The Air Force, despite all its feel-good rhetoric, has not sat down with the Bureau of Land Management and interested public groups to talk through the next steps of this project.


One major difference between Idaho and Nevada is that Nevada has a state government willing and capable of holding the military's feet to the fire. Unfortunately, Idaho's elected officials would rather bow down and worship an F-16 fighter jet than raise one eyebrow questioning the Air Force's commitment to the long-term health of and public access to the Owyhee Canyonlands.


I have a bad feeling the renewal of Nellis Air Force Base's withdrawn lands will end up much like the situation in Idaho. Nevada citizens should be cautious and take the Navy's promise with a lot of salt. No doubt arrangements made in Nevada will not be considered by Congress during the renewal process of 2001. Concerned citizens should be wary of backroom deals, making sure the Navy gets an "indefinite withdrawal" of the lands it uses. I applaud Grace Potorti's efforts to keep the renewal limited to 15 years. But don't hold your breath. The military has one of the largest budgets with which it can perpetuate feel-good talk and public relations-facilitated dialogues, while at the same time, making sure they get what they really want and then some.





Lahsha Johnston


Boise, Idaho





The writer works for The Wilderness Society's Idaho office and is a political science major at Boise State University.


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