Day 24 in the month of May, in the Earth calendar year 2015.
Sometimes, zooming around in the wild blue yonder can be rather phantasmagoric (a word I learned from my beautiful co-pilot and partner Janey. Definition: having a fantastic or deceptive appearance, as something in a dream or created by the imagination.) One minute you're on the ground in stormy lush green Choteau, Montana, and in the next few hours you are over a totally new environment such as the red rocks of Moab, Utah. Or perhaps the jungles of Belize one day, and a few days later flying over the snowcapped peaks of Colorado. Conservation flying is like that, protecting wild and unique landscapes that can be vastly different geologically and geographically, and flying diverse issues, while utilizing the magic carpet ride of an airplane.
Also from time to time you feel like it's déjà vu all over again, for example when you are flying the Rocky Mountain Front for issues like oil and gas, and then flying it for the Outdoor Heritage Act. Didn't I do this back in the 80s, and the 90s and on into the 21st century? I felt this way this past weekend when I found myself flying Gloria Flora who was formerly supervisor of the Lewis and Clark National Forest back in the 1980s and 1990s. It was Gloria who was one of the first federal officials to realize the intrinsic value of the "Front" when she made a landmark decision in 1997 to prohibit natural gas leasing in this area.
We were up in Choteau, which is 40 miles west of Great Falls, Montana, nestled up against the formidable Rocky Mountain Front, gathering to celebrate a hard fought and sometimes contentious battle to keep the Front wild, unique and untrammeled. The Heritage Act does nothing more than keep the land the way it has been for decades. Everyone wanted this but when politics enters the fray it is always hard to get bills like these passed.
Well, after years of conservation flying over this most spectacular of landscapes, we finally have some definitive results. The citizens of this area - a coalition of ranchers, outfitters, conservationists, sportsmen, business leaders and tribal members came together for a common cause - to lock in existing uses of the Front, and protect more than 300,000 acres of roadless areas. This all came to pass last December, when the Act was finally passed.
This celebration was a culmination of the hundreds of flights that EcoFlight has provided over the years. The flights included the most diverse passengers you could find; everyone from 5th generation ranching families to Native Americans, every type of politician imaginable, and even radio talk show hosts who were dead set against protecting this magnificent place until they flew over it with mouths agape and saw the splendor of what is the Rocky Mountain Front. Senator Daines (R) of Montana spoke at the gathering and made a special point in mentioning the overflight he did with us that greatly moved him, and helped shine a spotlight on this very special place.
Yes it was a celebration, and this celebration was 100% dependent on this unique group of people from divergent backgrounds and agendas who hammered out compromises and worked hard into the night, and through many years, keeping their vision alive and staying focused to achieve a result that will live forever.