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The Planet

YEAR-IN-REVIEW SIDEBAR: OWYHEE

Even as the environmental agenda was frustrated in Congress, activists at the state and local level were celebrating some hard-won victories. In the West, for example, Sierra Club activists have derailed -- for now -- a U.S. Air Force plan to create a bombing range in the Owyhee Canyonlands of Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.

In late September, under pressure from the Clinton administration, the Air Force canceled an expected Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the bombing range. Just days later, a federal magistrate ruled in response to a Sierra Club lawsuit that no adequate EIS for the bombing range had in fact ever been filed by the Air Force.

"You could hear the hammer on the coffin nails from here," said Rick Johnson, Regional Representative in the Sierra Club's Northwest Office. "This victory is testimony to the persistence and dedication of Sierra Club volunteers throughout Idaho and the great boost that came from activists across the country."

Activists aren't sitting around savoring their achievement, however. The Air Force is expected to prepare a new environmental impact statement that will contain options for alternative sites for the bombing range. Furthermore, the November election has changed the political climate surrounding the Air Force plan.

"Our work isn't over until we defuse the next EIS and secure permanent protection for the Owyhee lands," said Johnson.

The Sierra Club hopes to achieve permanent protection of the Owyhee Canyonlands through the designation of a national conservation area. Grassroots opposition to the proposed bombing range is so strong and so well-publicized that the plan has become the most highly-covered local environmental issue by Idaho's media in recent years.

The bombing range was the brainchild of outgoing Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus. Andrus, who played a pivotal role in the removal of Jim Baca from the post of director of the Bureau of Land Management, relentlessly lobbied the White House for approval of his plan.

But citizens in Western states were outraged that the Clinton administration was even considering approving the plan, which would have established the Idaho Training Range for bombing practice and supersonic jet maneuvers on more than 25,000 acres of isolated high-desert lands. New Idaho Gov. Phil Batt has supported Andrus' bombing range proposal since its inception, said Idaho activist Brian Goller.

"However, Batt's ability to push this issue is much weaker than Andrus'," he added. "Grassroots opposition has set this process way back. We defined the issues on our terms and we prevailed."

For more information: Contact Rick Johnson, regional representative, Sierra Club Northwest field office, 1516 Melrose Ave., Seattle, WA 98122; phone (206) 621-1696.

SOURCE: AMY WILSON, THE PLANET, DEC/JAN '95
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