April 2015 - Conserving land the old fashioned way

May 11, 2015

Day 21 in the month of April, in the Earth calendar year 2015.

Starship 1XE sits comfortably in its shelter while conservation flying continues in a TBM 700, a single engine turboprop that can fly at 300 knots and up to 31,000 ft.

There are many ways to protect and conserve land. We can legislate, mandate, regulate and even monument-ate it. Or the old fashioned way ... buy it.

Recently EcoFlight has conducted a number of flights with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to provide the aerial perspective for their mission to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. As we know from thousands of hours of experience, the best way to view landscapes and document them is from the air.

I am sitting copilot with a friend and fellow advocate for the environment, and our mission today is to fly over to the eastern slope of Colorado, near the small town of Trinidad. Our flight takes us to a most unique and little known landscape in Colorado, on the plains close to Piñon Canyon and the Purgatoire River, about 25 miles southeast of Pueblo. The Nature Conservancy is in the process of acquiring a huge ranch, called the JE Canyon Ranch, which is strategically important to the contiguousness of a biodiverse landscape, and will help to preserve this intact ecosystem.

Departing Aspen, we flew low and slow over iconic Mount Sopris in the Roaring Fork Valley, looking for friends who were randonee skiing the mountain, and then proceeded to flight level 280 (28,000 feet, a view I never get in 1XE), from where we viewed the new snow on the distant ranges of the Sangre de Cristos and San Juans.

Jason Gregg, our intrepid pilot, has been instrumental in getting his family foundation, the River Branch Foundation, to help in the efforts to acquire the ranch. It takes a lot of skill to fly a TBM low and slow, and to land one on a dirt strip. We succeed in getting an overview of the landscape of the ranch before Jason smoothly put the TBM down, and then continued our tour of the property on the ground with River Branch and The Nature Conservancy staff. We were not disappointed as we came across a bear swimming in the river, dozens of bighorn sheep, eagles and pronghorn. A really dramatic and special landscape.

I have been flying Piñon Canyon and the Purgatoire River for many years, as this area has been a hotbed of activism. Fort Carson has been working on expanding its present range for the use of military maneuvers, and the Department of Defense has been working to gain access to adjoining country. So much so that a coalition of ranchers and conservation organizations joined together to prevent said acquisitions, and to prevent the Department's threat of using eminent domain.

This flight reminded me of a recent mission to another amazing landscape, which has become a prime candidate for land acquisition and conservation easements. It is located in a remote and important ecosystem down on the Mexican border, just below Douglas Arizona. With The Nature Conservancy aboard, we flew into a world of domed volcanic plugs and dry lake beds as we photo-documented areas in and around the Gray Ranch where TNC is working tirelessly to preserve the integrity of yet another special ecosystem. In the background were the majestic Chiricahuas where Geronimo is known to have eluded the cavalry for all those years.

It is a tribute to a concerted effort by advocates, foundations, landowners, and conservation organizations both large and small, that these special properties that are an integral part of fragile landscapes, will be protected forever.


Bruce Gordon