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Sierra Club Conservation Policies

Military Use of Civilian Airspace and Public Lands

All public agencies, including the Armed Services and the Department of Defense, should strive to protect the integrity of human and natural communities. Military training and preparedness should be pursued in ways that avoid or minimize adverse effects.

1. Land Acquisition by the Military

All proposals by the Armed Services (including state Guards) and the Defense Department to acquire new lands should be based on comprehensive assessments of projected needs for their operations and various ways to meet those needs. Alternatives that should be considered should include use of bases abroad, shared use of sites among services, high-tech simulations, and other options that reduce impacts on the environment. Public involvement in the design and conduct of these assessments should be encouraged and opportunity provided for public review and comment. Final decisions should be environmentally responsible.

The total size of the land base held by the Armed Services and the Defense Department should not increase appreciably. Where a given area must be acquired, the Armed Services and the Defense Department should return lands of greater natural and ecological value to the civilian sector, preferably in the same ecosystems. If public lands are acquired for military purposes, lands should be relinquished in compensation to public land management agencies so there is no net loss of public lands.

Relinquished lands should be free of unexploded ordnance and contaminants, be cleaned up, and be in healthy condition. Where possible, returned lands with rare, endangered, threatened or unusual native plants and animals should be placed under the jurisdiction of an agency with the expertise and resources to protect them.

2. Military Overflights and Airspace Reservations

Overflights at supersonic speeds and by low-flying aircraft (under 2000 feet) are inappropriate over environmentally sensitive lands, such as national and state parks and monuments, wildlife refuges, units of the National Wilderness Preservation System, Wilderness Study Areas, and areas containing sensitive wildlife, cultural or spiritual values. Such flights should not be permitted unless it can be shown that the flights will not harm them nor detract from their value, or it has been demonstrated that no viable alternative exists.

Aviation fuel should not be dumped on these areas nor should bombing practice occur there, nor should these occur in Marine and Estuarine Sanctuaries. For the latter areas, regulations should be developed, based on evaluations of impacts, to avoid adverse impacts on users and marine life from overflights.

Except in cases of war and emergency, flights by military aircraft and personnel over public lands not under military control should be subject to requirements no less strict than those that apply to civilian aircraft. Changes in military airspace should be based on overall assessment of needs and alternatives.

3. Military Training and Testing on Public Lands

Where military training and testing is authorized on public lands, it should avoid impacting civilian recreational activity. To protect public health and safety, it should occur in areas segregated in space and time from those used by civilians (though, cooperative projects may occasionally be appropriate for such activities as clean up, ecosystem mapping and management, and restoration of damaged areas).

Following use of such lands, the military should restore their condition (where possible) and return them to civilian use. Toxics and ordnance should be removed and debris, such as chaff and litter, cleaned up in ways that minimize disturbing natural features.

The public, as well as Congress, should have an opportunity to review and comment on any proposal to authorize military use of public lands. Such use should be authorized only when no viable alternative exists. Such use should only be authorized on a case-by- case basis for a limited period.

The Armed Services and the Defense Department should protect biodiversity and wilderness values on lands affected by their uses. They should be good neighbors and safeguard adjacent lands owned by others from contamination and adverse effects.

4. Public Participation and Citizen Involvement

The Defense Department should establish various advisory committees which it should consult prior to making decisions and taking actions related to acquiring land, withdrawals, exchanges, disposals, reservation of airspace, and on policy governing overflights, training exercises on public lands, restoring degraded areas, and managing waste.

Moreover, the public should have opportunities to be involved on such matters through notice and comment procedures, open forums, steering groups, appeal procedures, and other mechanisms provided under NEPA and other laws and regulations applying generally to other federal agencies. Under NEPA, analysis of impacts and alternatives needs to occur before decisions are made and options are foreclosed.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 18-19, 1996


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