July 3, 2012
By CAMILLIA LANHAM West Shore News
Ecoflight pilot Bruce Gordon speaks with Tristen Scott of the Missoulian at the Condon air strip after a flight over the Swan Valley last Wednesday. The flight was an effort between the Southwestern Crown of the Continent, the Forest Service and the Swan Valley Ecosystem Center to show development and restoration efforts are in process, part of future plans and have taken place in the past.
Inside the cockpit of Bruce Gordon’s Cessna 210c, life is a little precarious on the Condon air strip alongside Montana 83.
It’s bumpy because of long grass and the trees are within eyesight as the plane heads faster and faster toward the end of the runway.
But Gordon moves the plane up and above the treetops and the media crew inside gets a view of the Swan Valley that stretches from the Mission Mountains to the Swan Range, north to Swan Lake and south to Seeley Lake.
Logging roads, patches of clear cut forest, old burns and the swollen Swan River are in plain sight and interspersed with ranches and homes. The purpose of the trip was to show off some of the work that’s being done to restore parts of the Flathead National Forest.
That was Wednesday afternoon’s flight. Thursday morning, Gordon flew a different media crew over the western edge of the Blackfoot Reservation to see the span of oil drilling happening on the Rocky Mountain Front. On Friday, Gordon was in Bozeman and took a different set of people up to view the Gallatin Crest because of the road and wilderness issues associated with it.
Those are just three trips Gordon hosted with his non-profit Ecoflight while he was in Montana. He spent a week in Montana this time around, and plans to come back at least two more times this summer.
Gordon has run his non-profit out of Colorado for the last 10 years and has been doing what he calls conservation flying for at least 25 years.
“Our mission is to educate and advocate for the environment using small airplanes,” Gordon said. “It’s as varied as the gambit of conservation issues.”
Just in the last week, Gordon has hosted flights to highlight coal development, fire and land strategies, oil and gas development, wilderness, and road issues over Montana and Wyoming. New Mexico energy development, Colorado pine beetles, and the Mojave Desert are also on his list of conservation issues he’s advocated for.
While he’s spent most of his life interested in the wilderness, as he used to be an avid high mountain climber, flying is something Gordon got into while looking for a lifestyle change.
Gordon originally got into flying because he wanted to be a mountain rescue pilot in Alaska, which was how he met his mentor Michael Stewart. Stewart started a conservation organization called Lighthawk in the early 80s and Stewart used flying to highlight conservation issues, just as Ecoflight does now.
“It was a perfect match for me,” Gordon said.
Over the three decades he’s spanned flying for conservation issues, a lot of things have changed. Gordon said the change that concerns him the most is how people think about the issues now. He thinks people operate out of ideological and philosophical concerns for a broad range of issues rather than a desire to fight for something specific they have a genuine interest in.
“Both sides are hurling rhetoric at each other about the issues,” Gordon said. “And these soundbites are picked up by people without proper factual documentation or educated opinions."
It’s not that he’s advocating for one side or another when he flies with politicians, media or landowners. He’s more concerned about informing people on the issues and through flight, Gordon can give them a view like none other.
“It gives a birds eye view of how the land works together,” he said.
In forests where clear cutting was or is practiced the sections that were clear cut are obvious. In the case of air pollution, the viewer can clearly see the horizon line and the contrast between polluted and clear. Well sites for oil and gas that are off the beaten path and hard to see from a highway are easy to spot from the air.
“And of course there’s the aerial photograph that allows us to bring the information to the general public that allows them to make better informed decisions about their area, their land, their universe,” Gordon said. “Airplanes, I feel, are an integral part of conservation because they give the land a voice.”
The Swan Highway, Montana 83, and the Swan River as they head north through the Swan Valley are visible from Bruce Gordon's Cessna 210c as it swings a wide turn to head south along the Mission Mountains last Wednesday.
The Condon air strip is visible through the cockpit window as Bruce Gordon brings his Cessna 210c in for a landing after a fly-over of the Swan Valley.