SIERRA - 3/12/12 Environmental Threats Brought Into Focus

Mar 12, 2012

March 12, 2012

Aerial Perspective Brings Environmental Threats into Focus


Arizona coal plant

A bird's-eye view of environmental destruction can give big-shot policymakers a new perspective, and the folks at EcoFlight have the wings to provide those game-changing vistas. Bruce Gordon founded the nonprofit organization to promote wildland protection, with planes offering a unique aerial perspective to current environmental threats to the Western landscape.

"It allows the landscape to present itself without us having too much commentary," said Jane Pargiter, the vice president of EcoFlight. "The land really speaks for itself."

Senators and congressman aren't the only ones going for a ride. Students, journalists, and conservation groups all fly as concerned citizens, each trying to comprehend the afflicted land below. A major goal for EcoFlight is to bring together as many people with differing backgrounds as possible to stimulate conversation and to empower each person to have a voice for the environment.

"They find that they actually agree more than disagree once they're up in the air," Pargiter said.

Gordon, an ATP-commercial pilot, has been doing environmental flights for 30 years. This year will be the 10-year anniversary of the Aspen-based EcoFlight. According to Pargiter, Gordon created the grassroots operation with the intent of staying small, but "very hard-hitting."

Greater YellowstoneA flight in 2007 outside Yellowstone -- a snapshot of an orange, lifeless Whitebark Pine forest -- inspired action from the Fire Service to fund a climate-change study focused on the pine and the Yellowstone Grizzlies dependent on them for a food source. The Mountain Pine Beetle, decimating forests across the Rocky Mountains, had separated the grizzlies from the pine nuts, a vital fat source in their pre-winter diet. EcoFlight participated in the study which concluded the Whitebark will be gone from Greater Yellowstone within the next decade. The grizzly was once again placed under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened population.

"I don't know if the griz is going to adapt or die," Pargiter admitted.

And the company is mindful of the emissions caused by petroleum-powered planes; "We do work in an environmentally conscious way with the plane," Pargiter said. EcoFlight is adamant about making each flight efficient by always flying with multiple passengers and outsourcing to different pilots or airports when the overflight is beyond their Aspen radius.

From Texas to Alaska, even the Chiquibul National Park in Belize, photographs and videos from above show the harsh effects of humans on the environment: mining operations, off-road vehicle tracks, oil shale development, coal plants, and urban sprawl. But as bleak as things may look from up above, Pargiter still boasts of the success that has come from EcoFlight and the hope that inspires more flights.

Just after our conversation, a plane headed to Moab to fly representatives from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and an energy company over the proposed Greater Canyonlands Wilderness.

 

--Lauren Pope / video and photo courtesy of EcoFlight

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