Newsletter Early Winter 2009

Dec 4, 2009

Owyhee-A Model in Collaboration

flathead_ecoweb_summ2010


Where the remote corners of Idaho, Oregon and Nevada come
together lies one of the most spectacular unprotected high
deserts remaining in the United States - a landscape that truly
characterizes the American West. The Owyhee - Bruneau
Canyonlands region is a special place.

Wilderness designation was recently given to 517,000 acres of
Idaho’s Owyhee Canyonlands and 316 miles of Wild and
Scenic Rivers.  EcoFlight is privileged to have participated in
flights that inspired and helped citizens create this wilderness
proposal . The Owyhee Initiative was crafted by local
ranchers, county representatives, conservationists, outfitters,
the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe and others to permanently protect
this area and its way of life.

Scientists have called the Owyhee Canyonlands some of the
most biologically rich and diverse landscapes in the country,
ranging from river canyons over a thousand feet deep to vast
expanses of sagebrush and grassland, to mountains of juniper
forest. An enormous diversity of wildlife depends on the
interconnections of this landscape, including the world’s  
largest herd of California bighorn sheep.  

EcoFlight recently overflew the Owyhees to celebrate the
Wilderness victory and to draw attention to the importance of
the  Owyhee Canyonlands of Oregon which are not included
in the wilderness designation. Representing one of the last
great expanses of undeveloped high desert in the West, the
Owyhee Canyonlands of Oregon hold nearly 2 million acres of
wilderness-quality landscapes.  The sagebrush steppe
ecosystem supports a number of key species and the steep
rhyolite canyons provide ample opportunity for quiet
recreation pursuits like fishing, camping and birding.

The remoteness of the Oregon Owyhees does not shield the
area from many threats. The Oregon Natural Desert
Association (ONDA) is working in a collaborative process
involving local stakeholders, activists, landowners and
government agencies to resolve issues.  As Chris Hansen of
ONDA stated after the recent overflight of the Owyhee’s:  “By
flying the landscape with a group of people from differing
perspectives, EcoFlight helped build trusting relationships
with the ongoing goal of protecting this awe-inspiring place”.

 

Letter from the President

Bruce ecoweb NLsumm2010

Dear Friends and Supporters,

As a writer friend of mine likes to say “when you get into the
airplane looking for the wildness of the land you become
aware of both time and vast distances”.  It gives you
perspective and, as I so often say, it lets the land speak for
itself.

I have been flying over our mountains and the West for more
than 20 years doing conservation work and watching the
profound changes on our landscape.  From the dulling of the
azure blues of the skies in Utah due to power plants; the
industrialization of spectacular landscapes by oil and gas
drilling, to the clear cutting of our forests.

This is a large and magnificent land that I fly over and I am
constantly reminded it is a land for all Americans.  It is a
country steeped in the traditions of democracy and everyone
needs to have their voices heard and their votes counted.  But
it is also necessary to compromise. Positions should not be
taken ideologically but logically.   

It is the debate on wilderness that can open contentious doors
of discussion and ideologies.  I can literally tell which state I
am over by the types of fragmentation and extent of
fragmentation on the land. In Montana the rolling forested
hills are cut up like the peeling of an apple.  The plains of
Wyoming are dotted by oil and gas as if the nearby ant hills
are on steroids.  And here in Colorado there is a myriad of
growing concerns as the landscape becomes more
industrialized.   

During the 80’s and 90’s we tried to pass numerous wilderness
bills as our last special lands became carved up.  This year
with the passing of the Omnibus Bill, we are celebrating the
final touches on many of these wilderness packages: The
Wyoming Range in Wyoming, Dominguez Canyon and Rocky
Mountain National Park in Colorado and the protection of
spectacular red rock country in Utah.  EcoFlight is proud to
have participated in these designations.

Now as we debate new additions to the wilderness system
Ecoflight has been busy flying the areas being proposed by
Senator Jon Tester in Montana, and the soon to be introduced
Hidden Gems Wilderness Bill in Colorado.  We still believe
that the best way to protect many of our last remaining pristine
areas lies in thoughtful wilderness protection.  It is our best
chance for healthy and sustainable ecosystems.

Best,

Bruce Gordon.


 

Thompson Divide-Canyon Country in Colorado

 

The Thompson Divide is our backyard here in the Roaring Fork Valley that we at EcoFlight ca home. The Thompson Divide Coalitionis an outstanding example of a grassroots organizationthat has been formed to secure permanent protection from energy development for the federal lands in the Thompson Divide area. Much of this backcountry west of the Crystal River and north of McClure Pass has already been leased for natural gas drilling. Development of these leases would have disastrous social, economic and environmental consequences for the area.

Our community lives,works and recreates in this area. More than 30 traditional ranching families depend on these federal lands for their livelihood and the ranchespreserve thousands of acres of scarce winter range for deer and elk. Ranching opeations in western portions of Garfield County have been marginalized by industrial oil and gas development. If these last remaining ranching communities are not protected now, the future of this area as a rural community will not exist. It is a shame that our governments do not permanently zone areas for ranching and farming as is done in Europe, to protect ranching and farming not only as a culture but as a viable economic activity.

Protection of our quality of life for this valley is paramount to our communities. this is both a recreation and ranching based community. Energy development would be toxic to the water,wildlife and recreational oportunities that we so value here in this unspoiled pastoral community.

EcoFlight stands firmly with the Thompson Divide Coalition in advocating protection of this both wild and rural area.

 

McCullough Peaks-Desert Badlands of Wyoming

nevada transmission_ecoweb_NLsumm2010


Rising to just over 6,000 feet, the McCullough Peaks are an
area of desert badlands which lie just to the south of Powell
and east of Cody.  Ancient geologic activity cast harder rock
on the relatively soft dirt of the ancient Big Horn Basin floor.
Wind and rain sculpted the McCullough Peaks as the softer
underlying soil was washed and blown away. The area is rich
in fossils from the Eocene Epoch and home to wild horses,
sage grouse, antelope, raptors, and many other species.  At its
core lies the McCullough Peaks Wilderness Study Area.

The biggest threat facing this area at this time is natural gas
development.  The BLM has approved an initial plan for Bill
Barrett Corporation to drill 7 exploratory wells, along with 2
wells on state land, on land bordering the Wilderness Study
Area and including land within a Citizens Wilderness Proposal
and the Wild Horse Management Area.  If sufficient quantities
of natural gas are discovered during the exploratory phase the
McCullough Peaks will likely be transformed into an
industrial landscape of well pads, roads, pipelines, and
compressor stations.  

EcoFlight and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition teamed up to
fly the peaks and to identify areas in the McCullough Peaks
too special to drill; so that when drilling takes place it is done
so in an environmentally sensitive way, such as not using
unnecessary wastewater pits. The Greater Yellowstone
Coalition is also advocating that if drilling is allowed it should
take place at a measured pace so that the Cody area is not
overwhelmed in the way that nearby Pinedale has been.
herds which have a colorful heritage dating back to the 1700s
when horses were first brought into this high plain desert area.
The responsibility for the care of these mustangs now lies with
the Bureau of Land Management.  Sadly, the BLM has limited
resources for this task and has resorted to making drastic herd
cuts on the range.  These icons of the American West deserve
better treatment than long-term holding facilities.

 

Victory for Wyoming Range

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EcoFlight is excited to celebrate the preservation of much
of The Wyoming Range, one of Wyoming’s best kept
outdoor recreational secrets. This area has long been
coveted for the natural-gas reserves beneath it.
In March 2009, as part of the Omnibus Bill, President
Obama signed the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, protecting
1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range from oil and gas
drilling. In August 2009, a further 24,000 acres were
withdrawn and EcoFlight along with partners The
Wilderness Society, Wyoming Outdoor Council and
Greater Yellowstone Coalition are proud to have been part
of this victory.
We are hopeful that the final remaining 20,000 acres of this
special wild place will also be withdrawn and complete the
protection of The Wyoming Range.

 

Students Empowered

to Become Leaders in Conservation

hidden gems ecoweb_NL summ2010


Flight Across America (FLAA) is an annual event in our
Kestrel student program, and is designed to engage our youth
in the pressing local and regional environmental issues of our
time through aerial observation and education; to empower
them to be a voice for western public wild lands.

Our latest chapter educated students in Colorado and
Wyoming on the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic that has
reduced our local lodge pole and white bark pine forests to
ghost forests. We look particularly at similar communities
experiencing the same problems and what steps those
communities are taking to be proactive about these issues.

Through a series of town hall type presentations we were able
to reach over 200 students from eight different schools.  The
White Bark Pine infestation in the Northern Rockies has
repercussions for grizzly bear populations, while the Lodge
Pole Pine infestation has implications for the urban rural
interface in terms of fires and aesthetics.  Climate change and
forest management experts, ecologists and conservationists
shared their concerns and ideas for dealing with this epidemic.