Tallahassee, FL - October 27, 2012
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam announced today that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Florida Forest Service has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States Air Force to support the military training missions in Northwest Florida, while allowing for compatible use on Florida state forests.
“The department is proud to work with the United States Air Force to provide areas where the men and women of our Armed Forces can conduct the necessary training missions to protect our country and its citizens,” said Commissioner Putnam.
“This agreement also ensures the sustainability of local economies that are based on a strong military presence, while preserving the stewardship of our state forests.”
As part of the Gulf Regional Airspace Strategic Initiative (GRASI), the department’s Florida Forest Service will allow limited military missions on portions of Blackwater River State Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest.
According to the Air Force, expanding the training onto state forests continues the economic benefits of the military presence in the Panhandle, while protecting the state forests’ natural resources. In fact, military employment makes up for 46 percent of all jobs in Northwest Florida and provides an annual impact of more than $14.8 billion in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Bay counties.
The memorandum with the United States Air Force will further protect our Northwest Florida military bases from defense base closures and realignment discussions (BRAC) because of the strong state support for our military installations.
These missions will make use of existing forestry areas, such as the grass air landing strip at Blackwater River State Forest and various helicopter landing pads on Tate’s Hell State Forest.
Missions will not negatively impact recreation, public access or sustainable forestry practices on either state forest.
Before any missions are conducted, Air Force and Florida Forest Service personnel are required to develop an operations plan that outlines training specifics to guarantee minimal impact to the state forest and its users.
Only special operations, air operations, and use of existing forestry facilities will be allowed, no live ammunition will be fired on the state forests.
“The Florida Forest Service manages its state forests under a multiple-use concept that allows for sustainable forestry practices, public access recreation and other uses,” said Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service.
“Allowing these exercises on our state forests is another leg of our multiple-use mission.”