More aviators push for airstrips on national forestland

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If it opens as planned next spring, the Russian Flat grass airstrip will give aviators access to the Little Belt Mountains. It will be the first such strip approved on national forestland in about four decades, according to Bozeman, Mont., pilot John McKenna, 55, a backcountry airstrip expert who is president of the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF).

Nationwide, 154 forests are updating travel rules, and some aviators support the process, says Gordon Schofield, group leader for land use in the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Region, based in Missoula, Mont. That is leading to new requests for airstrips, he says.

Some existing and proposed airstrips on public land run by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are being challenged.

"They really serve a very small, elite group of people, and they affect a large group of people and wildlife," says Gerry Jennings, vice president of the Island Range chapter of the Montana Wilderness Association in Great Falls, Mont. "They're noisy."