Place: Palm Springs, California.
Setting: Mojave Desert.
Issue: Protecting our Legacy and Strengthening our Future.
EcoFlight recently teamed up with the National Parks Conservation Association to give an air tour of lands that will be protected by the California Desert Protection Act of 2011. The flight, which embarked from Palms Springs International Airport, gave decision makers a bird’s-eye view of the proposed 134,000-acre Sand to Snow and 941,000-acre Mojave Trails National Monuments. The NPCA believes that this was a fantastic way to educate officials about the value of conserving special places in the California desert.
It became apparent on this flight to our passengers that the California desert is a place of unrivaled natural beauty, rich history, impressive recreational opportunities and remarkable biodiversity. But this unique region is also threatened by urban development in southern California and Las Vegas, over-allocated water resources and the development of industrial projects on ecologically sensitive areas. Fortunately, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s California Desert Protection Act of 2011 (CDPA of 2011) charts a course for regional planning and protects the heart of the California desert: wildlife corridors, habitats for rare and endangered species, recreational areas, and unique archaeological resources.
Once enacted, the CDPA of 2011 will create the following:
The aerial tour was an important step in building support for the CDPA of 2011, so that future generations will have an opportunity to enjoy these lands. NPCA is honored to collaborate with organizations like EcoFlight that generously lend their unique skills and expertise to help protect the California desert!
Seth Shteir, California Desert Field Representative, NPCA
Dear Friends and Supporters,
I’m waiting for the train. Yes a train – no security checks, comfortable seats, and no craziness of commercial aviation. If you aren’t flying eco-flights, trains are the way to go.
I’m on the east coast, heading to D.C to honor one of the true heroes of the Conservation Community, Hansjörg Wyss. Hansjörg is a true visionary who believes in the “possible.” Whether it is the Crown of the Continent, the National Landscape Conservation System, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, The Wyoming Range or the Rocky Mountain Front, Hansjörg is a leader and an inspiration in the conservation movement, protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of wild land for future generations. He is a man who sees the big picture and makes it happen, someone who walks the talk. He is also a friend adventurer, pilot and climber.
As I reflect on all our overflights of these spectacular wild lands that have been saved for posterity, the following climbing and flying axioms come to mind: the 5 Ps – prior planning prevents poor performance, or hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. It is clear that we are doing neither with our environment. When it comes to climate change issues or our national lands management we are not thinking of the big picture or preparation. My old friend Amory Lovins coined the phrase Global Weirding, and as I read the news about all the tornados, fires, rain and record snowpacks it is indeed weird. But is it now the status quo?
Bill McKibbon, with whom I was lucky enough to share the podium at a recent event, spoke of climate change and the reasons for these floods and tornados. When the Republican House (and a large number of Democrats) unanimously vote down basic facts about climate change – “Houston, we have a problem.” When our current administration changes course on public land policy as quickly as a yacht tacking into the wind – “Houston, we have a problem.” Many agencies are working hard to promote sound policies of sustainability but sometimes it seems the “crowd at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave” is intent on gutting the few conservation protections we have in place.Conservation is an integral part of our heritage and there are tangible economic values associated with this premise. During the Civil War we created Yosemite. During the Bay of Pigs we created the Land and Water Conservation Fund. During the recession, FDR created the Civilian Conservation Corps. We can protect the environment and create jobs and get the country back on track. We must stop the movements to dismantle our basic environmental protections. We hope that our flights and media outreach will help people become informed of the situations, so that they can be proactive in helping point our politicians in a direction to make substantive long-term balanced and consistent public lands and energy policies.
Missouri River, Missouri. (c) Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight 2011.
EcoFlight boasts a reputation for conducting aerial surveys in the Rocky Mountains but the organization made a deviation on its regular course by helping a midwestern organization, the non-profit Missouri River Relief, survey trash accumulated along the Missouri River.
In March 2011, EcoFlight conducted a low-level flight over the Missouri River for 370 miles between Kansas City and Saint Louis. Although the winds that day blustered and buffeted the aircraft, the late-winter conditions revealed the ground features clearly through leafless trees and provided excellent visibility for GPS-referenced photography. The flight attracted great media attention with TV, radio and newspaper broadcasts in three markets.
Missouri River Relief is an equipment-based, action-oriented, non-profit based in Columbia, Missouri. Their mission is to connect people to the river and make a visible difference through community-based cleanups of trash from shores, and by conducting education and restoration projects. A typical cleanup involves 150 volunteers who remove 10 tons of debris from the river environment in a day.
In the fall, MRR will be leading the Big Muddy Clean Sweep, a continuous cleanup voyage from Kansas City to the Mississippi River, stopping at river towns along the way. Two barges will accompany the group: one to provide living quarters and classrooms, the other for sorting, storing and hauling the accumulated trash. This mountain of garbage and debris will create a powerful visual statement about the problem of solid waste and the importance of recycling.
EcoFlight provided the means and expertise to conduct an aerial reconnaissance of the region to be covered by the Clean Sweep. River Relief is compiling maps of trash accumulations and target trash cleanups in the areas revealed by the EcoFlight mega-scout.
Jeff Barrow, Missouri River Relief Director
Bingham Canyon Mine, Utah. (c) Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight 2011.
Kennecott's Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah is the largest open pit mine in North America. It has supplied more than 6 billion tons of rock yielding copper, gold, silver and molybdenum, and – not surprisingly – an equally epic amount of pollution. This one mine pollutes more groundwater than any other mine and has rendered water undrinkable to thousands of Salt Lake City’s residents.
The Bingham mine is located within a couple of miles of the Great Salt Lake, one of the most significant migratory habitats in the Western Hemisphere. Pollution from the mine has resulted in extreme damage to fish, bird and wildlife habitat, not to mention public health and safety risks.
The federal government took action against Kennecott in 2008 for the release of hazardous and toxic substances including selenium and arsenic, both extremely harmful to aquatic life, wildlife and humans. The settlement agreement provided for Kennecott and the state to redirect all water contamination disposal into the Great Salt Lake. Kennecott is now pumping highly toxic water and contamination flows directly into the Great Salt Lake.
In May, EcoFlight flew a group of Nunamta Aulukestai Alaskans over Bingham Canyon Mine to help educate them about the magnitude of the proposed Pebble Creek Mine in their home in Bristol Bay. The Pebble Creek Mine threatens a way of life for these Alaskan natives based on salmon fishing. Flying Native Alaskans over this and the Elko, Nevada mines is part of an ongoing educational program EcoFlight has participated in for a number of years.
President Ulysses Grant issued the laws governing mining in the USA in 1872, in an era that was not concerned with environmental protections. The law was enacted to encourage settlement and development of publicly owned lands in the West. Unfortunately, nearly 150 years later, long after the West has been settled, this mining law is being used to trump all other uses of public lands, even if those lands are the West’s most special places, and even if the mines pollute clean water and devastate wildlife habitat.
And in the meantime, Kennecott is seeking to expand the Bingham mine law into recreational hiking areas and into wildlife habitat without resolving the current problems it is creating. An 8,000-foot mountain has been mined into what is now a 2½-mile-wide hole in the ground. When will the 1872 mining law finally be reformed?
Drilling in West Tavaputs Plateau. (c) Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight 2011.
In May 2011, EcoFlight flew with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance to monitor protection measures and gas development in the West Tavaputs Plateau area.
Both the East and West Tavaputs Plateaus along with the Book Cliffs in Utah mark a gateway into one of the most remote areas of the Lower 48 states. Through it runs the Green River that cuts the impressive Desolation Canyon and to the west is Nine Mile Canyon. Often referred to as "the world’s longest art gallery," the canyon contains one of the nation’s greatest collections of prehistoric rock art.
The area continues to be threatened by industrial traffic connected with natural gas drilling on the West Tavaputs Plateau and surrounding BLM lands. The Denver based Bill Barrett Corporation (BBC) who operates in the area was granted authorization by the Bureau of Land Management in 2004 to increase developments into proposed wilderness. Drilling was done despite the fact that Nine Mile Canyon is protected by the Antiquities Act which states that, "a person may not 'appropriate,' excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruins or dwellings or other structures.”
In 2004, the Trust for Historic Preservation added the site to its “America’s List of 11 Most Endangered Historic Sites” and in 2009, 63 sites in the canyon were added to the National Register of Historic Places.
A positive settlement in March 2010 no longer allows the BLM to use a shortcut to approve oil and gas development when such activities may have adverse effects on critical areas of historical, cultural or ecological significance. However, traffic from existing oil and gas operations in the West Tavaputs Plateau continues to generate huge amounts of dust in the canyon, which is causing significant impacts to Nine Mile’s rock images and may be accelerating damage to them.
In July 2010, an historic “programmatic agreement” was reached between the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Bill Barrett Corporation, which significantly reduces the scale of extraction and greatly protects natural resources from what Bill Barrett Corp. initially had proposed in their West Tavaputs Natural Gas Development Plan. The reduction shaves the short-term surface disturbance created by the project by more than half, from 3,656 acres to 1,603 acres. Most notably, the wild reaches of Horse Bench, Cedar Ridge and Jack Canyon will be preserved from developments as part of the negotiated agreement.
In addition, BBC is responsible for reducing the project's environmental impacts on the landscape and will honor the commitment not to construct or develop roads and wells on their existing leases within both the Jack and Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs), another remarkable victory for preservation in this wild region.
Some of the protections are aimed specifically at preserving the cultural assets of Nine Mile Canyon, including controlling dust churned up by heavy equipment which was determined to be damaging the irreplaceable rock art and cultural resources. Under the agreement, BBC would embrace an aggressive dust-suppression plan and require its 35 employees in that area, as well as subcontractors, to be educated in mitigating any impacts to cultural resources as a result of their activities. Further, this significant agreement between operator and environmental organization stipulates that compliance with all the protections must be monitored and if needed, adjustments to operations would be considered and carried out if needed.
In the end, many of the rare and outstanding resources of the area, including the wild character of Desolation Canyon to the cultural resources of Nine Mile Canyon are being protected better than if no agreement was achieved.
An excellent job done by SUWA.