They are two of the most iconic American symbols: the U.S. military and the national forests.
And for almost four decades the two have co-existed in New Mexico. It is important to the nation’s security, the military’s viability and the state’s economy that the relationship continue, albeit with adjustments made for lessons learned.
Since 1977, under a deal formalized between the Departments of Agriculture and Defense, Air Force and Marine Corps units based at Kirtland Air Force Base have conducted training in the Sandia, Mount Taylor, Magdalena and Mountainair ranger districts of the Cibola National Forest. Next year the U.S. Forest Service’s Special Use Permit expires, and KAFB wants a 20-year, modified renewal. It should get it.
To be clear, what those training exercises include is more than hoorah war games. Pilots negotiate high-altitude, mountainous terrain to better approach, land and depart in remote landing zones where the thin air affects aircraft handling and efficiency. Pararescuemen train on combat search-and-rescue techniques. And troops practice reconnaissance and patrol – all in terrain similar to where their units have been and may be sent.
So it is facile at best to suggest these exercises simply be moved to already heavily used military properties in the state like White Sands.
There’s no question military helicopters are disruptive, but there’s also no question realistic training is vital to the nation’s military, and the nation’s military is a vital part of New Mexico’s economy.
That said, as the permit process unfolds, it is important military and Forest Service officials use their 36 years of collaborative experience to best mitigate the effects of future training missions on Cibola Forest landowners, visitors, livestock and wildlife habitat.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.