Newsletter Spring 2005

May 4, 2005

EcoFlight Goes International to help Save the
Harpy Eagle

In March the Peregrine Fund and the Belize Harpy Eagle
Restoration Program called on EcoFlight to go to Belize and
assist them in locating birds as part of a Harpy Eagle
monitoring project. Our ability to respond quickly allowed us
to fulfill this request.

The Harpy Eagle is one of the largest eagles in tropical
America, weighing 18-20 lbs with a wingspan exceeding two
yards.  Unlike many other raptors, Harpy Eagles do not soar
high and do not fly long distances.  They travel relatively
slowly, moving from tree to tree through the forest.  Harpy
Eagles require large areas of intact lowland forest in order to
successfully hunt and reproduce.  In order to protect Harpy
Eagles it is necessary to conserve large tracts of forest and
these same forests contain some of the highest biodiversity on
earth. The Peregrine Fund has been working with the governments
of Belize and Panama to restore the Harpy Eagle
back to its historical range.

At present there are 5 Harpy Eagles in Belize that have been
bred in captivity and released into the wild. One of the
independent females, a 1.5 year old named Stella, is located in
the Chiquibul National Park and is unable to be monitored
from the ground due to her seclusion deep in the forest.
EcoFlight was able to track Stella by flying over the karst
jungle mountains of the Chiquibul reserve.  From the air this
terrain is heavily forested, with Mayan ruins appearing as
oases of stone in the verdant green.   

In recent years, largely because of changes in US
environmental policy, EcoFlight’s work has been focused
predominantly on the ever-growing issue of oil and gas
development on western public lands. We were therefore
honored and excited to participate in this important tropical
wildlife conservation effort. EcoFlight was contacted in part
because of Bruce Gordon’s history of flying in Belize and
throughout Central America. EcoFlight has been asked to
continue to play a role in the Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration
Program and we look forward to a growing involvement in
this important endangered species program. We are grateful to
the Chase Wildlife Foundation and Jean Ringwalt for helping
to fund this project.


While in Belize, EcoFlight also joined with the Peace Corps to
provide the US Ambassador’s office with a flight over the
Bacalar Chico Terrestrial and Marine Reserve. A World
Heritage Site on the northern tip of Ambergris Caye in Belize,
the reserve comprises 15,000 marine acres and 12,000 acres of
terrestrial lands. This park is accessible only by sea and
includes ruins from major Mayan trading centers, extensive
mangrove lagoons, coral reefs and extensive sea grass beds.  
Nearly 200 bird species, 40 species of mammals, including all
five of Belize’s cats, 58 reptile and 22 amphibian species are
protected here. At more than 400 miles in length, the Meso-
American Reef is the second-largest barrier reef in the world
and part of this reef is included in the reserve.  A network of
connected marine protected areas is being built along the
reef’s length. However, protected areas alone are not
sufficient; effective management of the reef’s resources is
essential to the reef’s long-term health.  The Bacalar Chico is
providing both good management and an enormous scope of
protection. EcoFlight’s flight over this remarkable reserve
helped to educate and further empower the US Ambassador to
support protections for the national wild lands and endangered
species of Belize.

 

Letter from the President

Having just departed a friend’s birthday party, the blustery
Colorado spring evening alternated between blizzard and blue
sky as ominous clouds rushed by. The people in attendance
were people who care about all living things. Strong,
successful people striving to make a difference.

We are, all of us, enormously challenged now by what is
transpiring in Washington and across the West in our own
back yards. Challenged by the direction our country is
heading, a sense of powerlessness sometimes comes over us. It
is then that we must look around, see our neighbors and renew
our resolve to continue our work; to conserve and to share and
to aid others in their steadfast commitment to keep our
communities clean and clear of toxic poisons, our air and
water safe to breathe and to treat the wildness that provides so
much for us with respect, foresight and care.

These are no ordinary times. A sustainable future will require
a sustaining vision of the future, necessitating unwavering
commitment, compassion and sacrifice. And these are no
ordinary people fighting to keep our national heritage and
remarkable landscapes safe for future generations. They are
our friends, neighbors, dedicated conservation partner
organizations and the countless others who have committed
themselves to true freedoms and the preservation of our
natural and wild places. This is where our personal resolve
and future heroes will come from.

From the drilling of Roan Plateau and the ORV tracks of
Factory Butte, to the Rocky Mountain Front and the
ecosystems of Belize, EcoFlight remains committed to doing
our part to protect what is left of our precious, life supporting
natural world. We are empowered with the knowledge that we
are in good company.

Best,

Bruce Gordon
President, EcoFlight

 


ORV Use Destroying Western Public Lands

On a recent Easter weekend, EcoFlight again joined forces
with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, this time to
document the random abuse and ecological damage caused to
public lands from off-road vehicle (ORV) use. Our target area
was the well-known Factory Butte formation, not far from the
Dirty Devil River and the town of Hanksville, Utah. On board
were members of Friends of Factory Butte, staff from SUWA
and a videographer. The airplane provided the best possible
way to see how the entire landscape was affected and the
numbers of ORV’s participating at a given time.

Factory Butte is one of Utah’s most photogenic landmarks.
But this remarkable landscape is falling victim to the
unrelenting wheels of off-road extreme machines. The impact
to the landscape is shocking and irreversible. For now, ORV
riders are restricted only by the natural barriers they
encounter. With the technology of these machines rapidly
advancing, riders are gaining an edge to overcome even these
barriers.


EcoFlight has flown over this region for years. The BLM
district manager informed concerned citizens back in 1995
that a management plan was due to be released soon that
would deal with the conflict between nature and machine.
Now, 10 years later, there are still no management practices in
place to protect this remarkable landscape from unrestrained
motorized vehicle use.

ORVs are known to fragment the landscape by cutting new
road paths, destroying vegetation and causing dramatic
erosion problems. “Extreme” ORV sport riders, who ride up
and high-mark step ridges, destroy fragile landscapes and the
opportunity for all other visitors to enjoy the intact wild lands
free of defacement. BLM management is aware of the
destructive impact that sport ORV use has on the fragile
environment. BLM researchers warned more than twenty
years ago that the machines severely threatened the future of
this landscape. “Enjoy Not Destroy” a motto often seen on
BLM publications, apparently doesn’t apply on the ground.

Scientific studies show that unconstrained ORV use in the
Factory Butte area is causing abnormally high levels of soil
loss and long-lasting damage to the landscape. The studies
have concluded that off-road vehicles are speeding up soil loss
by four times the natural rate, and that over the years ORVs
have caused the loss of about one million pounds of soil per
hill slope acre. This produced between 5 to 15 tons of salt that
may contaminate important farming water sources including
the scenic Fremont River.  Local residents also worry that dust
churned up by the vehicles is polluting local air and water with
salt and heavy metals.

Friends of Factory Butte are a group of Wayne County, Utah
residents and businesses. They along with SUWA have
submitted a Petition that requests federal officials to halt the
unbridled damage by issuing an Emergency Closure. The
coalition is not seeking a total closure of the region. Rather,
the Petition asks that ORV use be limited to already existing
roads within the Factory Butte area. A nearby area known as
Swing Arm City would remain open to cross-country driving
under the coalition proposal, providing balance between
protection of the area’s unique formations and ecosystem
values while allowing ample opportunities for motorized
recreation.  

In 2004, 606,000 tourists visited nearby Capitol Reef National
Park. With local businesses relying on the beauty of the
landscape for their income, locals have begun to wonder who
BLM is serving, the communities or the recreation industry.
EcoFlight hopes that by assisting our conservation partners in
documenting ORV damage, new land use practices will
protect the scenic and ecosystem values of western public
lands.

 

Ted Turner’s Vermejo Ranch a Picture of
Possibilities

It appears that the oil and gas industry actually can negotiate
and compromise in the interest of protecting wild landscapes.  

EcoFlight experienced first hand how such unprecedented
compromises can benefit both the industry and the ecosystem
when we joined conservation partners SkyTruth and the
Powder River Basin Resource Council for an extensive ground
tour of Ted Turner’s Vermejo Ranch. Our guides were Rich
Larson the Environmental Manager and Geologist for the
580,000 acre ranch and Marv Jensen, the manager of Vermejo.  
Having provided many flights over Vermejo for
environmentalists and the media, it was informative to be on
the ground on this ranch, considered by many to be one of the
last remaining spectacular wild lands in Northern New
Mexico.

Here, elk and Yellowstone Bison, descended from a herd
reintroduced in 1945, graze in pristine meadows alongside
sparkling streams.  Underneath this mountain meadow
paradise lies the Trinidad Formation – a rich crustaceous coal
seam. When Ted Turner purchased this ranch in the late 90’s
he bought the surface rights but not the mineral rights.  Turner
Enterprises and the managers of Vermejo have worked out a
Mineral Extraction Agreement (MEA) with El Paso
Production, the oil company that owns the liquid mineral
rights to Vermejo.  This MEA serves to provide the checks,
balances and guidelines needed for safe Coal Bed Methane
(CBM) development and provides a framework for Vermejo’s
environmental staff to work closely with El Paso’s
development team. Some of the key requirements of this
agreement include areas of special sensitivity where no CBM
extraction activities will occur, a total well cap on the number
of wells that can be drilled, locating gas wells so that they are
obscured from the general view as much as possible, the
reseeding of disturbed areas, restriction of noise levels and the
requirement that water pumped from the coal seam be re-
injected back into the geologic formations at 6,500 ft below
the surface.

This voluntary agreement, negotiated and signed between
Vermejo Ranch and El Paso Production Company is unique
within the industry. If other surface and mineral owners adopt
this creative type of agreement, mutually beneficial coalitions
could be formed and the affected ecosystems could flourish at
no extra cost to industry. Unfortunately, federal agencies such
as the Forest Service are unlikely to negotiate this type of
contract, in part because they lack the financial resources to
provide the level of independent monitoring of drill sites that
Vermejo Ranch and Turner Enterprises has required. For now,
Vermejo Ranch serves as a viable model for possible energy
development that can benefit the oil and gas industry while
protecting the living ecosystem.


Baylor Park Project Working to Protect Lynx

The Baylor Park Blowdown Project outside of Glenwood
Springs, Colorado is an area of Engelmann spruce/subalpine
fir surrounded by aspen and scrub oak/sagebrush in lower
elevations. The core area is very good habitat for the
threatened Canada Lynx, with several telemetry sightings
documented in the project area. The environmental
community, including Wilderness Workshop, Colorado Wild,
and the Sierra Club, among others, are wroking to protect as
much of the threatened lynx habitat and old growth
ecosystems as possible. After all, beetle infestations are
natural, cyclic events in these ecosystems and produce habitat
for many cavity-nesting species and downed wood dependent
species. The groups were successful in stopping the original
large scale logging plans and instead allowed for the removal
of severe blowdown. Hopefully efforts will be successful to
again limit new attempts by the Forest Service to increase
logging. The groups point to the Flat Tops Wilderness area
that underwent extensive beetle kill in the 1940's and 50's.
This area is now world famous wildlife habitat partially as a
result of the forest mosaic created by the beetle infestations.

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