THE ROAN WARS
Many of the West’s last untouched pristine wilderness areas continue to face increasing pressure for energy development and extraction. Areas such as the Roan Plateau in western Colorado, the Lock Hart in Utah, Jack Morrow in Wyoming, Otero Mesa in New Mexico, the Green River Valley and of course the San Juan Basin are now in jeopardy. Fragmentation and degradation caused by industrial oil and gas development on these lands threaten these fragile ecosystems. Once the impacts have begun, these areas will forever be compromised. This loss of our natural heritage is unacceptable.Working in close collaboration with The Wilderness Society, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and many others, EcoFlight has focused on protecting these important landscapes, flying press, local activists and community leaders over these lands. In the case of the Roan Plateau, the argument for preservation could not be clearer from the air. Recent flights over the Roan has led to important press coverage of the entire region.
Flying out of Rifle, Colorado, one can see the plateau looming ahead, but it isn’t until enough elevation is gained that you can truly appreciate the natural wonders of the area. The Roan Cliffs, rising 3,500-feet above the Colorado River valley, give way to a broad and rolling plateau, with forests of dense spruce-fir, immense aspen groves, sagebrush open lands, and wildflower meadows. Several creeks cross the plateau and drop into dramatic box canyons, featuring a spectacular 200-foot waterfall and some of the healthiest strains of imperiled Colorado River cutthroat trout in Colorado. The Roan Plateau provides outstanding habitat for fish, wildlife and rare plants and includes four proposed wilderness areas, and from the air one can see the vast scale of this intact yet unprotected western wilderness.
The BLM is currently crafting a Resource Management Plan for the Roan Plateau that will govern all uses – including wilderness, recreation, fish and wildlife, grazing, and oil and gas development – across the 73,000-acre planning area. In October, BLM released an outline of six preliminary alternatives. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is due out in Spring.
Of the six preliminary alternatives, Alternative F (Naturalness & Primitive Recreation Alternative) is far superior for preserving the existing character of the Roan Plateau in its current undeveloped state, yet still readily accessible by over one hundred miles of vehicle routes. BLM received over 12,000 public comments on the preliminary alternatives, the vast majority supporting Alternative F. Less than one-half of one percent of comments supported the alternative that emphasized wide scale gas development on the Plateau. Looking toward their future economy and quality of life, and remembering the oil shale bust of the not-so-distant past, every local community in Garfield County want this area managed for a mix of uses, not only for wide-scale energy development. Glenwood Springs BLM office makes a strong case for preservation as well, stating that “there are only three other areas of comparable size in western Colorado that contain such a richness of rare species…[yet] it is the only area of the four that does not enjoy protective status.”
The Roan Plateau contains unique and important values to present and future Americans. EcoFlight believes these values outweigh the short term economic gain of oil and gas development and will continue to apply its skills, tools and expertise to protect these lands.
Letter from the President
As I have often said, the myriad of activists, donors, volunteers and supporters of organizations like EcoFlight, The Wilderness Society and others are the real heroes of the conservation movement. We can never say thank you enough. One example of this kind of hero is Player Crosby. Known to many in the conservation community, Player passed away this summer while pursuing his favorite endeavor in his favorite place; flying over his beloved Berkshire mountains.
Player’s generous philanthropy and advanced piloting skills helped shape many important ecosystem protection campaigns. For so many years Player was instrumental in shaping and accomplishing conservation flight programs in Central America and Mexico. He flew countless hours in Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica and contributed thousands of dollars and the use of his plane for important work that otherwise never would have happened. For many winter seasons, numerous conservation pilots headed south to join Player and his famously well-equipped Cessna 206, often flying for weeks at a time throughout the region. Other seasons would find him flying to protect the Northern Rockies, the Southwest and the threatened lands of Africa.
Player personified enthusiasm and a never say die attitude. When faced with adversity he moved forward with lightening quickness, and creativity. His sense of humor, quick intellect and compassionate nature allowed him to serve the cause with dedication and enthusiasm.
Much like Michael Stewartt, the father of modern day conservation flight first did in the early 70’s, Player took conservation flying to a new level of effectiveness. With the loss of Player, the embattled planet and the conservationists who fight to protect it have lost a unique and tireless champion, just as I have lost a great and valued friend.
FLYING FOR INOVATIVE SOLUTIONS
Wild, open country. A huge basin surrounded by rugged mountains and pockmarked by steaming geysers. Below herds of Buffalo, Elk and packs of wolf as the Grizzly Bear roams the wilderness. No roads, lush vegetation and in this largest of watersheds, a healthy and sustainable environment.
This is Yellowstone National Park.
I push on north and as I look down I see what looks like the Snowmass Colorado ski area in the heart of Grizzly Bear country. How can that be, I am in Montana aren’t I? Yet there it is - clearcuts, condos and a network of roads.The development I’m viewing is the Big Sky Ski Area and the Yellowstone Club. The area is a region I have flown over for more than 18 years. The issues of timber cutting, grizzly bear habitat, land exchanges, and biological corridors have been fought over in this region for years. At this point its obvious we have lost a lot of intact wildness and habitat. The question now is, how can we positively address these concerns and do better in the future to preserve more of this irreplaceable natural heritage?
What got me thinking about this was some recent press flights with members of American Wildlands, the Wilderness Society and Lance Criaghead of the Craighead Environmental Research Institute (CERI). CERI”s mission is to enable human beings to coexist with other species in landscapes that are ecologically and economically sustainable. Their program goals are to help plan human population growth and development based upon the needs of wildlife.
These flights exemplified some of this thinking and could eventually lend more balance when it comes to the human-wildlife habitat interface. Our press flights took a look at biological corridors and creative ways to increase the migratory possibilities of wildlife as their habitat becomes increasingly fragmented with roads, condos and ski resorts.
Regional-scale connectivity analyses conducted recently by American Wildlands identified the Bozeman Pass area as a key corridor area for wildlife movement between protected areas. Remote cameras were used to photograph animals crossing in front of the camera at key sites such as underpasses and culverts. Road kill data, winter track counts and GIS data were also extensively used to compile figures. At least 127 mammals were killed in 2001 and 180 in 2002. The study found the westernmost corridor area near Bozeman Pass to be the area of greatest road-kill in the region. In collaboration with the Montana Department of Transportation, American Wildlands developed a mitigation project to take advantage of planned construction projects in the area and install fencing and moose guards so that wildlife could be re-directed underneath roadways using existing bridges and culverts. The fencing project will be constructed in 2005; monitoring of road-kill and animal movements will continue before and after the project to determine its effectiveness.
This is the kind of solution-based work EcoFlight tries to support with its tool of flight. By collaborating with organizations dedicated to finding solutions that work for both humans and wildlife world class wilderness and the life that depends upon it, like that of the Greater Yellowstone, can be preserved for future generations.
The Good Work of Others
This fall EcoFlight worked closely with the Wyss Foundation, who has increasingly become a leader in supporting effective environmental protection efforts in the Rocky Mountain West. The Wyss Foundation and members of Friends of the Red Desert flew with EcoFlight over the Jack Morrow area of SW Wyoming, which is now vulnerable to oil and gas development. Many groups are working hard to protect this land and the Wyss Foundation is empowering these efforts with much needed support and expertise.
Likewise, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) has been a constant collaborator with EcoFlight and a leader in efforts to protect the outstanding wilderness of the Colorado Plateau. Their work includes the Lockhart Basin, just outside the eastern boundary of Canyonlands National Park and part of a 50,000-acre citizen-proposed wilderness area that now also faces energy leasing and development. In both cases flight helped to support campaigns that educate and empower local citizens. EcoFlight is proud to work along side such effective environmental leaders.