The military is waging war against Sen. Alan Cranston's plan to protect millions of acres of the Mojave Desert where troops train and experimental planes fly.
The Democratic senator wants the National Park Service to protect 4.3 million acres of California desert from the ravages of off-road vehicles, mining, and oil and gas exploration.
His bill, currently before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would have no direct effect on 3.1 million acres of California desert the military uses for training.
But the proposed protected area would nudge the borders of the Army's National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, China Lake Naval Weapons Center and the Marine Corps Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range.
And that is too close for the Pentagon's liking.
Concerned About Limitations
The military operated 88,000 flights in the area last year, and officials are concerned about possible limits on low-flying experimental aircraft and on bombing and other training, John Shannon, assistant secretary of the Army, wrote in a letter to the Senate committee.
"The bill would place limitations on training, restrict future expansion and redefine airspace," Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood said. "All that would have a negative impact on readiness."
Environmentalists who support Cranston's plan, however, said the military has had free use of the desert for too long.
"The Army, in particular, has been a poor steward of the land," said Jim Dodson, Southern California-Nevada regional vice president of the Sierra Club. He is also budget officer at Edwards Air Force Base.
Under the bill, the Death Valley and Joshua Tree national monuments would be expanded by millions of acres, and 1.5 million more acres of desert would be carved out to create East Mojave National Park.
"Sen. Cranston feels the bill is important to ensure that the desert will be enjoyed by this generation and generations to come," Cranston aide Kam Kuwata said. "We've preserved the California coast from development. Why not the desert?"
The Defense Department is putting together its firepower, Flood said, and joining a campaign against the bill being organized by the Pro-Desert Coalition, a group formed by state Sen. H. L. Richardson (R-Glendora).