Gems campaign says proposal won’t hinder military training | AspenTimes.com

Gems campaign says proposal won’t hinder military training

Staff and wire reports
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE, Colo. – Representatives of the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign said Tuesday that the proposal to protect 400,000 acres of the White River National Forest will not adversely affect military flight training currently conducted in Colorado.

The High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site program currently uses mountainous sections of Eagle County and the Flat Tops to train helicopter pilots for the war in Afghanistan. The terrain and altitude at the HAATS is similar to that of Afghanistan.

Hidden Gems spokesman Sloan Shoemaker said the people working on the Hidden Gems campaign understand the importance of the pilot training program and are working with the Army to ensure it continues here.

“The Hidden Gems campaign fully embraces and endorses HAATS,” said Shoemaker, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, in a news release.

Shoemaker’s comments came in the wake of comments made Tuesday by an Army officer, who stated that proposed Wilderness designations for parts of the Colorado mountains could threaten the Army’s only high-altitude training site for helicopter pilots.

The proposed “Hidden Gems” Wilderness designations would put all of the high-altitude landing zones used by the High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site off-limits, said Col. Joel Best, senior aviation officer for the Colorado Army National Guard.

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“We really can’t afford to lose any of that land for the security of this nation,” Best said. He spoke at a briefing for Colorado county commissioners and legislators.

The White River Wilderness Coalition is advocating for Wilderness protection for what it calls the Hidden Gems, a collection of about 450,000 acres, or 700 square miles, in several parts of the Colorado mountains.

Shoemaker wanted to make it clear that Hidden Gems representatives have been talking with Army officials for several months about how to craft the wilderness proposal in a way that doesn’t threaten training exercises.

“We look at the Hidden Gems proposal and HAATS as a win-win combination,” Shoemaker said. “We can achieve landscape protection and ensure that HAATS can continue training.”

Hidden Gems representatives are scheduled to meet with Army officials later this week.

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