The Air National Guard is seeking expansion of its bombing range onto 6000 acres of Wood County's public forest. The military's Hardwood Bombing Range currently occupies a large chunk of land in Juneau County but the Air National Guard says they need more room for training and war exercises.
Last Fall, the military released its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the controversial expansion. The large, complicated document supports the expansion and concludes that there is no significant environmental impact and the expansion should proceed.
The public outcry against the plan has been loud. Three hearings were held on the EIS with nearly overwhelming opposition to the expansion. The Wood County Board has made it clear to the Air National Guard that they oppose the removal of public forests from their county for this purpose. The Board has voted against the removal despite intense pressure from the military to turn over the county land. The Department of Defense could also condemn the forest and take it without the consent of Wisconsin's citizens.
Pat Conway is a member of a citizen's group opposing the bombing range expansion. Says Conway, "this is an assault on State Statute 28.11, which protects County Forest Land statewide for future generations." In 1986, then Attorney General Bronson LaFollette issued an opinion declaring that Statute 28.11 does not allow for military use of County Forest Land. "We must demand that our state laws be honored by the Department of Defense," Conway says.
The County Forest Program began during the Great Depression as a means of rehabilitating tax delinquent lands repossessed by the state. The lands were frequently depleted by careless farming. The program sought to renew the soil through tree planting which would later provide paper pulp and renewed income to counties across Wisconsin. The reforested lands also offered important wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
The Air National Guard's uses its bombing range in Juneau County (surrounded by a 3400 acre buffer of Juneau County forest land) for training aircraft and military actions. Strafing with machine guns and canons and the dropping of practice bombs (weighing as much as 2000 pounds) are some of the activities undertaken by the 2400 jets that have roared over the central Wisconsin bombing range in recent years.