Montana Pilots Ask for Help

Preserving backcountry airstrips in the upper Missouri River breaks national monument is a watershed opportunity for Montana aviation. Your participation is needed now!

Presidential Proclamation created the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument on January 17, 2001. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the Monument. The location is in north central Montana and encompasses most of the Wild and Scenic portion of the Missouri River plus considerable areas of uplands. Monument Status:
The BLM is moving into the final stages of developing and adopting a Resource Management Plan (RMP). The agency has received extensive public input over the past three years. The Montana Pilots? Association has attended countless planning meetings in order to be closely involved in the process and also developed a forty-page informational document on aviation issues as they pertain to the Monument. In the spirit of cooperation the MPA has had a seat at the table in the planning process. The voice of aviation has been heard loud and clear and done so without being confrontational.

Within the Monument are ten grass airstrips on public lands. Most were constructed at least forty years ago. Some of the airstrips have been in existence for over fifty years, giving them the status as also having historical significance. The BLM has included six of the ten airstrips in their preferred alternative (F) of the draft RMP. The BLM is now accepting public comments on their draft RMP alternatives. These backcountry airstrips are the only public ones on Federal Lands in Montana east of the Rocky Mountains.

How You Can Become Involved:
The BLM is now accepting public comments on their draft RMP alternatives. It is absolutely critical that the aviation community step forward with letters supporting the inclusion of the six airstrips in the final RMP. If not included under this initial plan the airstrips will be closed permanently to all use. The aviation community needs to act now and do so by offering our comments. In your letter/email, thank the Monument RMP planning team for including six airstrips in the preferred RMP alternative (Alternative F) and request that the six airstrips be included in the final RMP. Below is a shopping list of relevant comment ideas that can be incorporated into your RMP comments to the BLM.

Talking Points for Your Comments:

  • Airstrips fit into the overall management goals of the BLM, which include managing the Monument in a multiple use manner and providing access for diverse recreation opportunities.
  • Airstrips are internal trailheads, resulting in less use of across country, motorized travel to access the interior portions of the Monument.
  • Airstrips provide a method for disabled persons to reach remote sites within the Monument when they cannot suffer the long overland journey. This follows the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Airstrips are useful for other activities aside from recreation such as search and rescue, firefighting efforts, law enforcement and land management activities.
  • The Missouri River corridor is widely used for east-west flights. There are no other airstrips in the area that could be used for emergency landing sites in case of poor flying weather or mechanical problems.
  • The use of an aircraft for travel is by personal preference just like other forms of motorized transportation, yet it has much less impact on the ground.
  • The airstrips within the Monument have been in existence for decades, yet there is no evidence of soil erosion. This is in marked contrast to scars left on the landscape by other forms of motorized transportation. Once an airplane has landed, it doesn?t move until it is ready to fly again. A plane has no powered wheels and does not tear up the ground.
  • The location of the airstrips on the uplands above the Missouri River precludes noise disturbance to the boaters in the river.
  • The airstrips are not just for pilots but their family and friends as well.
  • Despite the fact that the six airstrips appear on a map to be in close proximity to each other, the rugged, deeply incised landscape of the river breaks means that the airstrips are hours of foot travel apart from each other.
  • The six airstrips provide for a dispersed use of the landscape.
  • The aviation community would voluntarily perform maintenance necessary for the airstrips, thus not obligating State or Federal agencies? personnel time or funding.
  • Legal research finds that there is no legal liability to be incurred by the BLM. Montana has a recreational use statute.
  • The airstrips were proposed for inclusion in the final RMP after consultation with area wildlife biologists. Seasonal restrictions would be placed on the airstrips to protect wildlife at vulnerable times of year.
  • The six airstrips would be charted and entered into the FAA database. The aviation public can then be notified of any seasonal closures needed to mitigate reasonable wildlife concerns.
  • The area in which the six airstrips are located is not of wilderness character. There are numerous roads, gas leases and wells, and livestock grazing improvements like fences and water impoundments, all of which need mechanized means of maintenance.

    Where to send your comments:
    Gary Slagel, Monument Manager
    Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument
    P.O. Box 1160
    Lewistown, MT 59457”

    The complete draft RMP/EIS can be seen at:

    Aviation is on pages 101,174,320.

    We in aviation have a unique opportunity to preserve six backcountry airstrips located in a unique part of the Northern Great Plains. Your help is critical. Take a few minutes of your time to send in your comments to the BLM. A written, personalized letter is preferred. Please, do not send form letters or cards. Even just a short letter or email supporting the airstrips as proposed in Alternative F, the Preferred Alternative, will help. The Montana Pilots? Association has brought us to this point. Now, we need your help! Comments need to be in by January 15, 2006. Do not put this off. Comment now to save these unique backcountry, recreational airstrips.

    Editor’s Note: The California Pilots Association is happy to cooperate with Montana pilots and other western state aviation advocates. Every aviation group needs to build alliances, because no one group can do it alone.

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