February 2017: Senator, Sportsman, Public Lands Advocate
Mar 1, 2017
Captain's Log Starship 1XE, Day 18 in the month of February in the Earth Calendar Year of 2017.
Snowpack at Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
During this long, warm and unpredictable winter season 1XE has been moored in its patio shelter awaiting breaks in the weather that have been few and far between.
Recently a request arrived at headquarters for a flight down to New Mexico where La Niña has dumped an unusually large amount of snow in the high desert in the northern part of the state, while the southern part of the state continues to be arid. Our flight would prove to be logistically challenging, but well worth the effort as it included a US Senator and the director of New Mexico's BLM.
In preparation for the flight all kinds of arcane clearances must be secured, and paperwork galore sent to various agencies as the flight will include an agency official and the flight route is directly through the middle of restricted areas. Restricted areas denote areas of no-fly zones for general aviation planes. The FAA ominously states, "Penetration of restricted areas without authorization from the using or controlling agency may be extremely hazardous to the aircraft and its occupant".
Bell Boeing V-22 Ospreys
We obtained the clearances and the proper paperwork and took off on runway 03 from Albuquerque Airport directly over the National Guard headquarters where a squadron of vertical take-off and landing tilt-rotor aircraft (Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey) were on the move. Although our flight conditions were relatively docile, and we didn't spot any fighter jets, we did hear from air traffic control that missiles were being launched in areas close by.
Our mission was to familiarize Senator Martin Heinrich and the BLM director with the landscape of the Otero Mesa, the largest and wildest Chihuahuan Desert grassland remaining on public lands in the U.S., and to discuss the future of these lands. This stunning area is widely considered to be among the most biologically rich and diverse desert eco-regions in the world. It contains one of New Mexico's largest untapped fresh water aquifers, important in an area already adversely affected by years of drought, as this is the future fresh water source for New Mexico and El Paso. In addition to breathtaking landscapes, Otero Mesa features New Mexico's only remaining genetically pure pronghorn antelope herds, a healthy mule deer population, more than 1,000 other species of wildlife and a complex ecosystem full of native plants. A little known fact is that African Oryx were introduced in 1969 onto White Sands Missile Range in south-central New Mexico as part of an exotic big-game hunting program. The Gemsbok or Oryx as they are called in New Mexico, flourish in the desert terrain. 90% of the migratory grassland birds breeding in western North America's Great Plains winter in the Chihuahuan Desert. This region is an outstanding and beautiful area to hunt and recreate.
Senator Heinrich and Bruce
The Senator, a hunting and fishing advocate, and the BLM director, both well informed about their landscapes in New Mexico, were joined by sportsmen in the plane, who spoke to the value of Otero Mesa as wildlife habitat, and the threat of oil and gas to this complex ecosystem.
The best part about the flight was gaining the acquaintance of Senator Martin Heinrich. A rising star in the political arena, he gave us a glimmer of hope that relations in our Capitol would have a sane voice in the future, open to discussion and collaboration at the highest level.