Fall 2018

Sep 25, 2018
Defending the "Public" in Public Lands
The administration has been launching aggressive attacks on our public lands for 18 months - and isn't letting up. EcoFlight is in the midst of a busier-than-ever flying season, working with our partners to mobilize campaigns to defend our treasured public landscapes, national parks and monuments against increasing threats from drilling, mining and a host of other destructive actions and policies. Notably, the administration is making efforts to weaken our country's bedrock environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act. They are taking every opportunity to eliminate or ignore public and tribal input as they lease off public lands for drilling and mining. Throughout this flying season, EcoFlight has been working with local partners to counteract these attacks on the public's ability to comment on lease sales near Canyonlands, Carlsbad Caverns, Great Sand Dunes National Parks, Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the Greater Little Mountain area in Wyoming.
Mollies Nipple in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument                                               Jane Pargiter
The administration removed nearly a million acres from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in December 2017, and then opened most of these 700,000 acres to coal mining and oil or gas drilling in a management plan in August 2018, even though the initial action is still being challenged in multiple court cases. EcoFlight highlighted these threatened paleontological resources, culture sites, riparian areas and wilderness with the all-encompassing aerial view for investigative journalists and Grand Staircase Escalante Partners for upcoming media stories.

Great Sand Dunes National Park                                                                                             Bruce Gordon
Lease sales near Great Sand Dunes National Park created a national outcry. EcoFlight was out of the starting gate early, and planned a series of overflights with grassroots groups in Huerfano County to ensure local policy makers, Navajo and the press got the aerial perspective of these pristine landscapes that border the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area and Great Sand Dunes National Park. The flights resulted in multiple statewide and regional press stories. After seeing the landscape from the air, Huerfano county commissioners voted in favor of asking the BLM to delay leasing in the area until completing proper reviews. The BLM later deferred the leases, acknowledging the need to consult with Navajo leaders and other parties.
San Rafael Swell                           Bruce Gordon
The Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, Utah Rock Art Research Association, SUWA, NPCA and media flew this summer over Emery and Wayne Counties, where 200,000+ acres are proposed for oil and gas leasing in BLM's upcoming September lease auction. Some of the 127 lease parcels pose threats to Labyrinth Canyon and Canyonlands National Park. Utah reps are also pushing a public lands bill that has serious implications for redrock wildlands. For example, more than 900,000 acres of proposed wilderness are being left unprotected within Emery County, and other lands worthy of protection are left out simply because they are not within arbitrary county lines. The current legislation would riddle proposed conservation areas with destructive motor vehicle routes, and contains insufficient protections for unique Utah landscapes like Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek and San Rafael Badlands. EcoFlight and our partners will continue to fight for meaningful protections for Utah's wildlands, and to push our representatives to fix this bill.
Greater Little Mountain Area, Wyoming        Gary Kraft
The Greater Little Mountain region is a unique high desert habitat that contains some of the most sensitive fish and wildlife habitat in Wyoming. The area has served as a hunting, fishing and recreational paradise for sportsmen and sportswomen for generations. The BLM is updating their RMP for the Red Desert and has proposed oil and gas leases in the Greater Little Mountain Area. Concerned sports groups, the Eastern Shoshone, Northern Arapaho and wildlife biologists are urging the BLM to defer leases in the area, using the revision process to create a plan that balances economic, conservation and social concerns.
Sapphire WSA, Montana              Bruce Gordon
Montana's Senator Daines and Representative Gianforte introduced bills to remove up to 700,000 acres from Wilderness Study Area (WSA) designation. This top-down approach to WSA management is a slap in the face to the general Montanan public who prize their public lands above all. Montana's WSAs were identified 40 years ago as special, wild places deserving careful management, and these landscapes provide prime backcountry recreation experiences and contain critical and secure habitat for fish and wildlife. The WSAs in the bills deserve a fair and open process, but unfortunately conservation and wilderness groups were not included in discussions when the bills were crafted. Gianforte's bill also opens fresh threats to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
Partner Spotlight: Heidi Davidson

Heidi Davidson, Marketing & Outreach Director for Wyoming Wilderness Association (WWA), gets to actively engage with public wildland issues on a daily basis. Working at the base of the Bighorn National Forest, Heidi is always eager to get people outside to experience firsthand areas that need increased protections. Heidi worked with EcoFlight to engage local stakeholders, elected officials, media, and the general public on flights, resulting in Inventoried Roadless Areas continuing to be protected under the 2001 Roadless Rule. Heidi: Working with EcoFlight has been invaluable to WWA's efforts to bring attention to issues and areas at risk of development on the forest for the last many years. Heidi appreciates the dedication, passion, and opportunity Bruce, Jane, Michael, Gary, and Kristin continually bring to WWA's campaigns.
To recognize the 50th Anniversary of the Wild & Scenic River Act, Heidi and WWA were excited to once again partner with EcoFlight to recognize three eligible rivers on the Bighorn National Forest. With EcoFlight providing an advantageous platform to initiate the conversation this summer, WWA is dedicated to engaging with all stakeholders interested in protecting these rivers.
Black Thunder Coal Mine, 2014       Jane Pargiter
The Powder River Basin produces over 40% of US coal, and the dozen mines in NE Wyoming and SE Montana cover hundreds of square miles. Federal and state laws require mining companies to complete reclamation (clean-up) work during the productive lifetime of the mine, but much reclamation must wait until after mining is completed. The Powder River Basin coal industry has lost dozens of power plant customers across western, southwestern, and midwestern states, and the overall trend is a decline in coal as it becomes less competitive with other sources of energy.

Black Thunder Coal Mine reclaimed, 2018               Kristin Wright
As the market for PRB coal shrinks, the risk increases that these mines will close prematurely. If a company goes bankrupt and walks away, the states will have to step in to oversee the reclamation using "reclamation bonds." But, if a mine is "self-bonded," as several are in Wyoming, the state will be left with the tab for clean-up. As coal becomes less profitable, companies are already starting to offload struggling mines - along with their cleanup liabilities - onto other parties who may be less prepared for this responsibility.
EcoFlight continues to fly Western Organization of Resource Councils and partners who are working to get standards in place that ensure coal mines are adequately reclaimed, while protecting taxpayers from financial liability if mining companies go under.
President's Letter

In this day and age we believe strongly that our balanced approach to conservation is needed more than ever. My latest conversations in the cockpit discourage passengers from the proverbial "look out the left side of the airplane or the right side of the airplane" and encourage you instead to "look down, educate yourself on the landscape you are looking at, and then advocate and have your voice heard for your position."
2018's flying season started early and we expect it to end late as there is an overabundance of issues that need addressed, which only the aerial perspective can convey objectively. Despite extreme fires in the West and visibility challenges, EcoFlight has been on the go. The challenges to our public lands have never been greater. From our first flights in May to the time of this newsletter, the theme has consistently been a new threat, suspending or curtailing public input on our public lands, an attempt to silence your voice.
The relentless pursuit of an Energy Dominant policy is causing havoc to balanced and sustainable public land management and to the unique birthright of Americans, as owners of these lands. Time periods for public comments are shortened, environmental assessments and Environmental Impact Statements are abbreviated or deemed unnecessary, and long term policy initiatives for inclusive ecosystem scale programs abandoned.
It is indeed a unique time and I remember all too well the Watts era of the 80s when Secretary of the Interior, James Watts, argued there was little need to conserve the environment. Awareness is the key, and advocacy the solution. EcoFlight will continue to advance both concepts during these 'interesting' times.

Best, Bruce