Flight Across America - Students Fly Over Wilderness

May 27, 2014

EcoFlight’s annual student program, Flight Across America (FLAA) brings the aerial perspective of wildlands to students who are studying issues on public lands. EcoFlight hosted a student seminar on wilderness last fall, and recently conducted overflights of wild lands for the students who participated.

We viewed wildlands in the region such as Sopris, the Maroon Bells and the Raggeds, which have the highest level of federal protection – Wilderness designations. These areas are protected to preserve their natural characteristics in perpetuity, and to protect the ecosystem services they provide like clean air, water, wildlife habitat and recreation. This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the visionaries who sought to protect these wild places. As you saw from the plane, most of the currently protected wilderness is higher elevation "rock & ice."

While these iconic landscapes are beautiful, the adjacent lower and mid-elevation lands provide a much more important and diverse ecosystem for wildlife habitat and connecting corridors. Some of these mid-elevation lands like Hay Park at the base of Mt. Sopris are part of a wilderness proposal called the Central Mountains Outdoor Heritage proposal, led by Senator Mark Udall. Click here to learn more and contact Senator Udall about protecting wildlands.

Our flight also took us over the 221,500 acre Thompson Divide area, which is at risk from natural gas development. As a mostly intact ecosystem, it provides enormous value to the community. Not only does it contain critical wildlife habitat and provide clean air and water, the Thompson Divide contributes $30 million dollars a year to the local economy and supports nearly 300 Colorado jobs. Locals identify with this pristine area, as it represents the heritage, culture, source of food and clean water, and a way of life for Coloradans.