Air Force working with Bureau of Land Management to temporarily close public lands as military tests weapons, including new ‘hypersonics’

Air Force and Bureau of Land Management officials have identified over 700,000 acres of public land just outside the Utah Test and Training range that can be temporarily closed as the military tests weapons and new “hypersonics” — or high-speed weapons.

Officials have designated eight “buffer zones” in Utah’s West Desert and are asking for public comment on a memorandum of agreement between the two groups on the process of closing the lands. The public comment period ends May 9, according to a news release from the Bureau of Land Management.

The memorandum — the first of its kind in Utah — was drafted as per the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorized the 703,621 acres of land could be closed, but didn’t specify how that could happen, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Hannah Cowan said.

Col. James Frickel, commander of the Utah Test and Training Range, said the buffer zones are “based on increasing the parameters for testing of current weapons and the potential for the testing of new ones, specifically ‘hypersonics’,” or missiles that travel many times faster than the speed of sound.

Interstate 80 runs along the borders of two buffer zones between the Utah Test and Training Range’s north and south areas, though testing should never shut down or impact the roadway, Frickel said.

“All traffic will be well protected from any possibility of incursion by either aircraft or by weapon,” he said.

The memorandum, which would be in effect for 25 years, if approved, tasks Utah Test and Training Range officials with planning, scheduling and notifying the public of any trainings that would prompt public lands closures. They would survey the buffer zones before closures to protect “un-evacuatable locations.”

The Test and Training Range would also post guards at points along the buffer zones.

The agreement says the Bureau of Land Management must consult with Utah Test and Training before issuing new use permits on lands it manages, and it outlines how the two groups would resolve disagreements about the permitting.

The Air Force would remediate any land affected “in the extremely unlikely event that a test object should land off DoD land,” according to the agreement.

In most cases, lands will not be closed on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays, and won’t be closed for more than three hours a day. If testing mandates longer trainings, they cannot exceed six hours a day, according to the National Defense Authorization Act.

Cowan said officials were looking for any kind of feedback on the closures, though the memorandum of agreement only stipulates the rules and responsibilities of both agencies.

“It’s definitely an opportunity to identify things outside the box that we may not have considered, and we welcome all comments,” she said.

People can give feedback on the agreement in two ways: either at go.usa.gov/xQ469 or by mail. Comments should be sent to 2370 S. Decker Lake Blvd., West Valley City, UT 84119. Address envelopes to Matt Preston, BLM Salt Lake Field Office.