Don’t Let the “Sound of Freedom”
Swamp the Sound of Wilderness
by Donna Osseward, Chair, OPA, Fall 2015
Will you be hearing babbling brooks and birdsong or the “sound of freedom” in our Olympic Peninsula wilderness areas? The “sound of freedom” is what the Navy calls the roar from its jet planes. In a few weeks, we will know the decision the Forest Service will make on this question, and whether Olympic Park Associates (OPA) and other conservation organizations will be forced to go to court to fight this issue.
The Navy has requested a permit from the Forest Service to use Olympic National Forest land on the western portion of the Olympic Peninsula for an electromagnetic warfare training range. This plan would require jet planes flying over private and public lands, including Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest wilderness areas, and the Washington Islands Wilderness. They would also use the airspace over Quinault, Quileute, and Hoh Reservations; Washington State Department of Natural Resources land; Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary; the Washington Islands National Wildlife Refuges; and thousands of acres of private land, including the towns of Forks and Amanda Park.
Nearly 3.6 million people visit Olympic National Park yearly to enjoy this World Heritage Park. That does not count the people who come to use the Olympic National Forest and other Peninsula tourist attractions. OPA argues that the savings the Navy claims they will enjoy will be negated by the damage to the Olympic Peninsula economy and the quality of life of those living and visiting there.
This training has been happening for many years elsewhere, in Idaho and Nevada. OPA supports the brave people who fight to preserve our freedom but argues that this training is done much better in the other areas already being used for that purpose.
The Army out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) has also started a NEPA process to expand their helicopter training into the Cascades and in areas just south of Olympic National Park. The Army “proposes to establish three off-base helicopter training areas (HTAs) [on the Olympic Peninsula] and one mountain training area (MTA)” (in the Cascades). [SCOPING DOCUMENT, Northwest Aviation Operations, Off-base Helicopter Training Areas, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, June 2015].
If the Navy and Army get permission to conduct warfare training activities on the Olympic Peninsula and in the Cascades, it will set a precedent that will endanger wilderness everywhere. Solitude is one of the most valuable qualities of wilderness. OPA argues that the shock and awe of modern warfare should not be a part of the wilderness experience.
Mapped boundary lines do not prevent sound from traveling through our national parks and wilderness areas. The noise of all of these military flights will not be confined to the areas on their maps but will also expose everyone along the flight path from Whidbey Island or JBLM to the training sites.
The good people in the American military don’t seem to understand that the “sound of freedom” should not be heard everywhere. It’s great to watch and hear for a few days, for a few hours, at Seafair. But the military proposes exposing the people living and visiting the Olympic Peninsula to Navy fighter jet noise 260 days a year, 12–16 hours a day, or to Army helicopters for “24/7, 365 days except for federal holidays.”
Studies have shown direct links between noise and health: high blood pressure, hearing loss, sleep disruption, stress-related illnesses, and reduced productivity. Other studies have demonstrated similar effects on wildlife. Wilderness areas provide relief from the noise of civilization. The militarization of the Olympics is a recipe for excessive stress for the people living and visiting the Olympic Peninsula.
The 95% of Olympic National Park that the U.S. Congress designated as Wilderness is meant to provide these benefits to all who visit the park.
Olympic Park Associates is vigorously opposing the military’s proposed intrusions into our wilderness.
U.S. Navy Proceeds with Plans for a Permanent Electromagnetic Warfare Range on the West Side of Olympic National Park
[updated Oct. 2015]
The Navy is in the late stage of planning a permanent electromagnetic warfare training range on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula. If approved, Navy Growler jets could ply the airspace over Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest as well as tribal, public, and private forest lands and coastal areas for 12 to 16 hours per day, 260 days of the year.
Olympic National Forest is poised to issue a special use permit allowing the Navy to field ground-based electromagnetic emitter trucks on Forest Service roads. OPA and other conservation groups have demanded a complete environmental impact statement (EIS) from the Navy fully disclosing impacts on residents, visitors to the park, and forests and wildlife. The Navy’s existing environmental analysis (EA) was done without public review and is wholly inadequate.
In a further move to militarize the Northwest, the Army announced a proposal to allow combat helicopter training exercises, including landings, 365 days a year in the Cascade Range and southwest Washington’s coast. The scoping comment period on this proposal closes on November 3.
Opposition to the Navy’s plan is overwhelming. In September a petition signed by more than 110,000 individuals opposing the Navy’s plans was delivered to Olympic National Forest.
To learn more about ill-conceived plans to militarize the Peninsula’s airspace—and to find out what you can do to help stop it—click here. To read OPA’s comment letter to Olympic National Forest, click here. To read Olympic Forest Coalition’s analysis of the issue, click here. To comment on the Army’s proposal, click here. To visit the West Coast Action Alliance’s informative website, click here. And watch this site for future updates.