HAILEY • With a headset on and the propellers spinning, it’s hard to hear the rhetoric.
All that remains is the view from a single-engine airplane flying over a crinkled, complex landscape. In that cocoon, away from the cacophony, is where Bruce Gordon, executive director of the non-profit EcoFlight, hopes his passengers make their decisions.
“The whole thing is to get people to advocate for what they believe in,” he said. “But it can’t just be what they believe in because they are only listening to some cable station spout from both sides. They need to look at it for themselves.”
Such an experience occurred for a handful of stakeholders Wednesday when Gordon and company flew circles over the Boulder-White Clouds Mountains, north of Ketchum. Conservationists hope to make the land into a 592,000-acre national monument and several organizations, governments and groups have supported and opposed their efforts.
Gordon said he has flown over a number of places that later became national monuments, including the recently designated Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Having piloted those staunchly opposed and those rigorously for land protections, he said many more are converted to support conservation than not.
“It doesn’t become sound bytes; it becomes real to them,” he said.
Andy Munter, owner of Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum, said he was reminded of the good times he’s had atop many of the peaks Gordon flew him and others around. Wild places, he said, have inspired him his whole life.
“It is easy when you are sitting down in town and talking to people to have these rational reasons not to do certain protections and be afraid of what would happen if the feds get involved in management plans and Obama signs an order and who knows what happens next — a national park or chaos,” he said. “But when you get out there in the wild, you can really see that its wild country that needs protection and right now this seems to be the best way to get that protection.”
Michael Gibson, outreach coordinator for Sportsmen for Boulder-White Clouds, said he was impressed to see the area’s interconnected, “pristine” wildlife habitat. Gibson’s group is on the defensive after the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted to oppose the monument idea, which, he said, was a hasty and uninformed decision.
“To see it in that scale, I think it would make anyone look at it differently,” Gibson said. “I can’t speak to what it would have done for their opinion, but it would have definitely given them pause.”
Ketchum Mayor Nina Jones said she reflected on the size of the proposal — many have balked at the half-million-acre idea.
“It’s fairly small when you’re up there and see all of the terrain to every direction and you fly around it in 30 minutes,” she said. “And it looks fragile.”
Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary agreed. “When you’re in the air, you don’t see the boundaries and I saw the connection of the area more clearly,” she said.
Stanley City Council President Steve Botti said he is neutral, as is the council, on the monument idea. While the area he flew over earlier is clearly “spectacular,” there are mounting concerns about impacts to the area.
He said he needs to hear from the Obama administration on its intent and process before making up his mind.
“The devil is in the details,” he said. “It is certainly worthy of protection, and if there is going to be enhanced protection, it really matters what that would be.”