March 2016 - Prescribed Fire

Mar 31, 2016
Captain's Log Starship 1XE, Day 22 in the month of March in the Earth Calendar Year of 2016.
Conservation flying in the 80s
There was smoke in the distance and you could see the columns of flame towering over the trees on the horizon. As we moved north the air began to move upward and downward alarmingly, and it was obvious that the fires of Yellowstone were creating the gusts and thermals. Aboard was an LA Times reporter and her photographer. As they began to look around nervously, I imagined them thinking "what the heck am I doing here". What they were doing was they had answered my call to join me on a flight to see if fires were truly destroying Yellowstone.

The year was 1988. I still have a vivid recollection of flying these reporters - the first to report on the fires. We maneuvered and shucked and jived through the airspace, and were able to bring back great photos and good reporting of what was indeed an enormous fire. This fire was chronicled as devastating at the time, but the intervening years have shown that it created a healthy rejuvenated forest, and there was almost zero impact on the economy of the area.

Way back when, in the days of the brown shoe army, everyone believed that fire should be put out at the earliest possible moment. In '88 the fires were caused by a perfect storm of events: 9 fires caused by humans, 42 by lightning, and a preponderance of downfall from years of fire suppression. My beloved Yellowstone, where I trained for Himalayan climbs, survived; and the forest was not destroyed, as initially believed, but it was a lesson that things needed to change.
Watch to get the scoop on the upcoming prescribed burn in Hunter Creek near Aspen
Fast-forward to March 2016, and a group of local organizations, the Hunter Creek Smuggler Mountain Cooperative and the USFS, came to EcoFlight to produce a video. Last year, our flights over the major fires near Dubois, Wyoming and Boise, Idaho were an indication that we need to address the very real concerns of fire in a new and pre-emptive fashion. Here in our community we are dealing with the natural force of fires, and educating the public on fire and what needs to be done. With widespread fire suppression in the 20th century, global warming, beetle kills, and urban sprawl into the wildland urban interface have resulted in an over-abundance of fuels, which in turn has exacerbated fires into furious out-of-control conflagrations. And these conflagrations are what we have been seeing of late in the West. One way of dealing with fire is to do prescribed burns, thereby eliminating the build-up of fuels on the forest floor, which can cause these fires to quickly escalate. Prescribed burns are also a way of simulating natural fires, creating re-vegetation and healthy forests.

So, EcoFlight has been busy shooting photos and video of a wildland area outside the city limits of Aspen, Colorado for this group of local organizations who are all promoting a prescribed burn for this forest. Unheard of no, but a delicate decision, as the burn will be in one of our most popular mountain biking areas and close to town, creating fear of an unruly fire because of our unpredictable springtime climate-exacerbated winds. Hence the strategy to get out in front of this possibly contentious issue, and produce a public service video explaining the need for the prescription burn and the facts around it, rather than misinformation taking foot. EcoFlight was a natural fit for the flights and this video, as we have witnessed and documented an increasing number of fires, especially mega-fires, as we traverse the skies of the West.

I am proud that local conservation organizations and the USFS came to us for help in disseminating this important information. Take a look. Although this video is about a local issue, the topic is pertinent as fire control and prescription burns are becoming more critical.
Bruce Gordon