FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Air Force Invades the Rocky Mountains

The Rocky Mountains burst out of the short grass prairies of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado with a special beauty that is part of the DNA of its residents and former residents. People from all over the world seek out these mountains. This is the “purple mountains’ majesty” of “America the Beautiful.”

The people who live in this area are deeply rooted and very protective of this wonderful place. The area teems with wildlife, breathtaking mountain peaks, wilderness areas, forests and natural wonders like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Shiprock and the Rio Grande Gorge.

Tribal lands in the area contain three United Nations-designated World Heritage Sites: Taos Pueblo, Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years. In addition to being a world treasure, it is also designated a National Historic Landmark. More than 20 sovereign nations live in this area today, rooted to their lands and sacred sites.

Later settlers came for grants of land “deeded” by the King of Spain. Next came the U.S. Cavalry to conquer the West, followed by pioneers of the United States, followed by a flow of immigrants from around the world to settle this vast continent, a flow that still continues.

These mountains contain the Continental Divide, with all the headwaters of the rivers that nourish the arid southwest flowing west all the way to the Gulf of California and east to the Gulf of Mexico.

Isn’t this land protected forever? Not according to the military and Congress.

The people in this area, joined by allies across the globe, are fighting every day to keep this wonderful place from being turned into a very low-altitude special operations flying and spying training area by the Air Force. If the military gets its way, this will be America’s own Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran of mountain villages used for war training.

Over one year ago, in September 2010, the Air Force announced that is was going to create a low-altitude training area, or LATA, over New Mexico and Colorado – very low, as in 300 feet above ground level. Most nights of the year, there would be an average of three flights zooming overhead at 250 miles per hour, with jumbo C-130 Hercules tankers full of fuel for refueling the crash-prone, obscenely expensive, Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

The Defense Department has tried to cancel the Osprey since 1989. The Governmental Accountability Office testified to Congress as recently as 2009 that the Osprey should be terminated. The cost of each Osprey has ballooned, and they cost more than $11,000 per hour to fly. Despite this, Congress continues to fund the defense contractors Boeing and Bell to build more.

The massive expanse of terrain desired by the Air Force for this special-operations practice may be the largest single takings ever subjected to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. If it is not the largest, it is one of the largest: 39 very large counties in two states; a vast area of some 60,000 square miles – 38.4 million acres – containing large swaths of the pristine southern Rocky Mountains and short grass prairie. This area is beloved, fiercely beloved, by those who live here and visit.

The vast majority of this area is protected – or is it? Unlike most of the rest of the United States, much of it is communally owned, by sovereign American Indian nations, Spanish and Mexican community land grants and the public. All citizens of the United States own the extensive federal public lands.

The Constitutions of both New Mexico and Colorado designate large amounts of state lands to be forever held in trust for the benefit of public schools and education in each state. There are nearly 20 million combined state acres, with the majority in New Mexico, a large part of which are included in the LATA. The military gives zero recognition of the importance of state trust lands nor any potential change or degradation in value or use that might occur under the proposed LATA. These degradations would cause serious impacts to education funding into the future for all the students in the two states.

Wasteful military spending is not only polluting, but its excess is making the U.S. less safe. I have spent the last year as part of the Peaceful Skies Coalition, www.peacefulskies.org. We are a coalition that has come together to stop the Air Force from implementing this disastrous low-altitude flight plan. The coalition has brought together an amazing cross-section of people: tribal leaders and local governments, ranchers and environmentalists, veterans and pacifists. People across the entire political spectrum are working together to save a place, a very special place.

After a career focused on public health and rural development, getting involved in military spending has been a real eye-opener for me. During the decades I spent in Washington, D.C., whether fighting for increased access to health care or community development funds to sustain the fragile economies of frontier and rural communities, I never really knew how extreme the transfer of wealth to defense contractors and the military had become. I hadn’t studied how endless militarization had literally sucked the life-blood out of rural America and replaced it with the myth that our only hope is to be resource-extraction colonies or military colonies of a globalized economy for the 1 percent.

While I focused on trying to salvage a health program or increase rural development funds through one farm bill after another, defense contractors had received trillions of dollars for war and the practice of war. Prize-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy speaks around the world about the dangers of global militarization, reminding us that there was a time “when weapons were manufactured in order to fight wars. Now wars are manufactured in order to sell weapons.”

That is how it feels on the ground under this latest proposed sky grab.

As the Peaceful Skies Coalition studied the Air Force proposal, we learned two things. First, the military already has too much airspace, more than half of the skies over the United States, and, second, the costs of this proposal and the other military sky and land grabs are a large factor in the bankrupting of the country.

We learned that communities throughout rural America are fighting to stop more Air Force flights overhead. In addition to New Mexico and Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona, Kentucky and Maine are some of the other states fighting intrusive low-level flights.

Low-altitude flights cause many negative economic impacts to communities. They hurt tourism-dependent local economies, harm wildlife and range animals, pollute agricultural land and damage the lives of people under the flight paths.

Airplane owners and pilots are uniting to stop the proposed increase in low-altitude military flights. Many pilots have testified that current simulation programs are sophisticated enough to provide training for lower cost and with fewer environmental impacts. Pilots are already having a hard time flying in the West; at the LATA forums they testified how hard it already is to zig-zag around military airspace just to fly from one place to another.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, there was a very large, multi-issue rural coalition. One of its most important projects was the Rural Alliance for Military Accountability, or RAMA.

Anyone interested in building on that model can contact Media Peaceful Skies Coalition via email at mediapsc@taosnet.com. Rural people can stand together for real sustainable community development and a better future for our communities and the nation as a whole.

Carol Miller is a longtime public health advocate and lobbyist, has run for Congress and is currently co-chair of the Peaceful Skies Coalition, which opposes the low-altitude flights.


 

More articles by:

Carol Miller is an Independent unable to vote in the New Mexico primary. She has been working on electoral reform and creating a more democratic electoral system since the 1990’s. Miller recommends that people newly awakened to the unfairness of the electoral system support Ballot Access News (http://ballot-access.org/), Coalition for Free and Open Elections (http://www.cofoe.org/), and Fair Vote (http://www.fairvote.org/).

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail