July 2017 - Under the Radar

Aug 14, 2017


Captain's Log Starship 1XE, Day 27 in the month of July in the Earth Calendar Year of 2017.


Our weather radar has been clear lately, though there is a lot going on under the radar.


August is supposed to herald the dog days of summer but you sure couldn't tell by our recent flights from Colorado to Wyoming. As we make our way north in the early morning light we are met with phantasmagoric outlines of island mountain ranges peering ominously out of the gray blue haze. The eerie pallor cast by wildfire smoke meeting the rising sun looks prehistoric as we skim along at 9,500 feet,190 mph, relying on our navigational skills and our trustworthy Fore Flight app.


We are greeted by 90-degree weather, no wind, and the broad and seemingly endless expanse of prairies, island mountain ranges and huge reservoirs of central Wyoming. The wet spring is evident in the brimming potholes and overflowing lakes, and elicits surprise from our passengers as these are typically dry lake beds.


Wyoming is known as the "equality" state because of its historical role in establishing equal voting rights for women. This seems fitting as our flights are to build understanding of the landscapes at stake in the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) and fully reflect EcoFlight's mission, of helping to educate citizens and giving the land a voice, while providing a platform for debate and listening to all people of all persuasions.


The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative was inaugurated by Governor Matt Mead, and is a collaborative, bipartisan, county-led process intended to designate Wyoming's Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) either as wilderness and protect them for posterity, or release the land for other uses. Wilderness Study Areas are federal lands which are managed as wilderness until Congress designates or releases them. And we all know how quick and efficient Congress is at getting things done. So, it should come as no surprise to learn that after 40 years there are still plenty of WSAs in the West that have yet to be designated.




Brown Canyon Rim

Nine participating counties have appointed advisory committees of diverse stakeholders, who will recommend and help shape legislation for each of their county's WSAs. EcoFlight has provided the aerial perspective for all 9 participating counties over the last year. Passenger seats are filled with 3rd generation ranchers, sportsmen, county commissioners and oil and gas workers, and even though the temperatures inside the plane are extreme, the conversation in the cockpit is a cool breath of fresh air compared to the public lands rhetoric coming out of Washington. On the local level people are thoughtful, courteous, and their responses are measured. They are grateful and appreciative of being able to gain the aerial perspective and to view some of these remote, rugged and hard to reach landscapes, including the well-known Palisades area outside Jackson, the incredibly rugged landscapes of Bobcat Draw near Worland or Bennett Mountains near Rawlins. The varied landscapes of these WSAs merit the extensive scrutiny and attention they are being given by their dedicated advisory committees.


But back to the big picture and what is not so obvious and below the radar. There are intense rumblings in Washington spearheaded by Representative Bishop of Utah to hand over OUR federal public lands to the states. Representatives Barrasso of Wyoming and Pearce of New Mexico are very much of that ilk. So, here's what I think, here's what I am concerned about and here's what I know. In my opinion it's NOT just "about the economy, stupid", but "it's also about our public lands, stupid", and with so much going on in the White House, it is remarkable how a consistent focused few are intent on selling off our public lands to the states and then to private development concerns and extractive industries. I am concerned about the magnitude of this foolhardiness, that so many of our last remaining wild lands will suffer if we bow to local pressures of industry, not forgetting that these lands are owned by all Americans. These WSAs are currently managed as wilderness - the gold standard of protection - and any "initiative" will likely reduce these protections.


What I do know is that the people on these committees are taking their responsibilities seriously. They are engaged in the process, talking with their neighbors, going on field trips, looking at all the scientific data and other research. They are taking the time to understand every interest, from agriculture, to recreation to oil and gas. They really want to gain a comprehensive understanding to make the very best recommendation for their communities. These folks, regardless of which interest they are representing, all have a great connection to and understanding of the land; they also understand the value in protecting certain lands for posterity, so future generations have a wild legacy to appreciate and enjoy.




Bruce Gordon