USFS Underlines Importance of Backcountry Aviation

Following years of work and discussions, on July 2 Abigail Kimbell, Chief of the US Forest Service, signed a directive acknowledging the long and proud history of aviation use and airstrips on forest service lands, and asked USFS managers at all levels to inventory and maintain existing facilities, and to support aviation as an important recreational activity.

Foundation and senior Forest Service executives in Washington. Similar to policy statements regarding other classes of the public and user groups such as hikers, anglers, and boaters, the memorandum states: “Aviation has been part of our country’s heritage, both as a mode of transportation and as a means of access to remote and scenic areas for a wide variety of purposes. Backcountry airstrips are an appropriate use of National Forest System lands as they provide enhanced access for a variety of legitimate recreational activities… Recreational aircraft and backcountry airstrips can be an integral part of a balanced and efficient transportation system.” From the earliest days of aviation, backcountry airstrips have provided support for forest managers, fire crews, and medical evacuation aircraft, in addition to recreationists.

Unlike other recreational facilities requiring hundreds of miles of roadways, airstrips require minimal disturbance of the natural landscape, while serving as internal trailheads. Airplanes do not have driven wheels so they do not churn up fragile landscapes the way other vehicles do. They are considered a low-impact use. In addition the document notes the importance of existing and future mutually beneficial relationships with aviation groups, similar to those with other groups. It says, “Operation and maintenance of airstrips may provide opportunities for cooperative relationships under Challenge-Cost Share and other authorities.

The recreation pilot communities are significantly engaged in providing funding, human resources, expertise, and equipment for backcountry airstrips on NFS lands. … The use of volunteers in joint development of Russian Flat public airstrip on the Judith Ranger District, Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana is an excellent example of cooperative development.”

The Recreational Aviation Foundation, devoted to the perpetuation and improvement of recreational aviation opportunities on both public and private lands, congratulated the Forest Service for its recognition of aviation’s importance, and also acknowledged the contributions of dozens of state, local, and other aviation groups in building and maintaining strong relationships with land management agencies, creating the foundation for a strong system of backcountry airstrips. For further information please visit

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