Saving the Owyhee from Jet Fighters, Sonic Booms and Flammable Flares

Patrick Stoll

Author: Mark Salvo  |  Published: November 1, 2022  |  Category: Coming Up

File this under “looming threat”: ONDA has learned that the U.S. Air Force may release its final plan to extend a controversial jet fighter training regime into southeastern Oregon, threatening fish and wildlife, wild lands and waters, communities and tribal nations that live and depend on the region.

You may remember the Air Force’s draft proposal from last year. It would increase the current number of supersonic flights and sonic booms over Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands by more than 300% percent and allow fighter jets to fly as low as 100 feet above ground. Imagine, that is just the height of a tall ponderosa pine tree.

The Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho has a long, contentious history of seeking to intensify its use of its huge, nearly 12,000-square-mile tristate training area in southeastern Oregon, southwestern Idaho and northern Nevada. A broad coalition of conservation, hunting and angling and recreation organizations, tribal nations, ranchers and community members have repeatedly organized and even litigated against these past attempts.

Despite major opposition to this latest gambit, we don’t expect the Department of Defense to pare its final plan from its original proposal. This is particularly unfortunate, given that knowledgeable commenters have noted that the type of training contemplated is increasingly outdated in evolving modern warfare.

The intense noise and sonic booms that fast, low-flying jets produce has many impacts. Wild animals panic, and livestock have been known to stampede into fences. Recreationists have reported awful experiences being buzzed by jet planes. Landowners have seen their property damaged from the shockwaves.

In addition to the noise, the proposed plan would increase threats from wildfire and pollution. As part of their training, pilots drop flares and release chaff. The flares can—and, in fact, have—ignited destructive and costly range fires; the chaff can pollute fish-bearing streams. In the tristate training region, we’re looking at more than 36,000 flares and chaff bundles released per year. And, under the Air Force’s proposal, pilots would be allowed to drop flares and chaff while flying much lower to the ground, which would increase these risks.

How ONDA is Addressing the Mountain Home Plan

ONDA is leading a campaign to oppose the “Mountain Home Air Force Base Airspace Optimization for Readiness” plan. In 2021, we submitted extensive technical comments on the unacceptable impacts and many deficiencies with the Air Force’s draft plan. Then we organized twenty local, state and national organizations to urge Congress to intervene in the Air Force’s hurried and inadequate planning process. Now we’re supporting Senator Wyden’s legislative request that the Air Force hit pause on its process and better study effects on fish and wildlife, communities and other values before proceeding to a final proposal.

Looking Ahead

There is a right way and a wrong way to plan for any type of use on Oregon’s high desert. ONDA and our partners will insist that military training, just like mining or livestock grazing or recreation, properly consider and avoid negative impacts to people, natural and cultural resources, and other values in the region, and that any final plan protects sage-grouse, wilderness and water quality.

We will share more with you about this misguided proposal in the weeks and months ahead. With a legislative amendment to promote, a planning process to review, and probably even litigation to file, we will need your voice and support. Thank you for being part of this important campaign.


John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

Restoration is hard slow work. It takes hold, or it doesn’t, in fits and starts. The immensity of the need can be discouraging, but we must carry on. I am so thankful ONDA carries on.


Far from Big Macs

Far from Big Macs

There is a point in the Owyhee region, in northwestern Nevada, that is, at 115 miles away, as far away as you can get from a McDonalds in the U.S.



Time Lapse: a night at Canyon Camp in six seconds

Time Lapse: a night at Canyon Camp in six seconds