NEW WEST - 5/20/11 Colorado Non-Profit Offers Aerial Views

May 20, 2011

New West Feature

Colorado Nonprofit Offers Aerial Views of a Changing Landscape

EcoFlight, a nonprofit putting people in the air for more than a decade, banked on a high-up view of global threats as a catalyst to increase conservation. Through a partnership with Google Earth, that experience is nearly replicated for anyone with a high-speed connection.

By Paul Andersen, 5-20-11

Astronauts who looked back on Earth from outer space for the first time quickly understood the importance of the biosphere, which biologist E.O. Wilson describes as a “razor-thin” bubble shielding the earth from the void of space. Putting people into high places has that impact – an immediate, personal, visceral realization of how nature enfolds the earth.

EcoFlight, a nonprofit aerial reconnaissance program based in Aspen, has been putting people into high places for 11 years, revealing environmental threats to a multitude of landscapes. The hope is that passengers aboard will gain a new perspective of large-scale land use issues like forest clear-cuts, beetle infestations, water pollution, strip mining, road building and gas and oil drilling.

But thanks to a new partnership, not everyone has to pay for a coveted spot, limited to four at a time, in EcoFlight founder Bruce Gordon’s single-engine Cessna.

Gordon’s “virtual tours” will soon provide links to Google Earth that he says will convey the impact of being on board.

The collaboration with Google Earth began in 2009 between Gordon and Wally Macfarlane of Geographics in Logan, Utah. Their first application focused on a survey of Montana’s beetle-infested white bark pine. A subsequent aerial study of pollution and trash in the lower Missouri River expanded the approach, coupling aerial photos with GPS locations.

This new endeavor, explained Gordon, will allow his concept to reach “more people with more precise information in keeping with our basic mission of advocating and educating.”

Gordon said he’s been dreaming of this concept for more than 20 years. Increasing bandwidth makes his dream a reality. “It’s like social media for the environment,” he said.

EcoFlight photographs are synched with a GPS locator that gives exact coordinates for specific images. It’s called geotagging, a technology that plots EcoFlight missions with pinpoint accuracy. Viewers with Google Earth software can fly along with Gordon and his passengers, taking in the overview, knowing exact locations, and listening to a running narrative of what’s on the ground.

“I want to share what I see every day,” said Gordon, “not only visually, but what I learn from the people I fly with – champions of the earth. People who get into the air can make better, informed decisions. We need to have those informed decisions to pave the way for sound conservation measures.”

EcoFlight’s website is being revamped to provide new links and expand its web gallery of aerial images. Wally McFarlane of Geographics is providing tech support.

“Bruce does so much flying that he doesn’t have time for all these technological things,” said McFarlane. “These virtual tours are as close to being on the plane, but not being on the plane, as you can get. It’s the best way for Bruce to get his work out.”

From the ground, people will be able to see rivers wind in serpentine coils. Mountains reach toward the clouds. Farms fashion quilts across the landscape.

A wetlands region in Belize looks idyllic, but is threatened by the spread of an invasive species of fish. A vast conifer forest in the Wind River Range of Wyoming is wild and expansive, but the browning of trees signals an attack by pine beetles. The patchwork agricultural land in rural Western Colorado is greening up for spring, but is being fragmented by oil and gas rigs drilling for energy.

“Our flights throughout the Rocky Mountain West show that one can’t fly 30 minutes in any direction without seeing exponential growth in resource extraction and other human activity,” reflects Gordon. “What we’re seeing from the air is an enormous cumulative threat to America’s last great wild places.”

[End of article]

Comment By Dewey, 5-21-11

I've flown with Bruce a few times, beginning back during the LightHawk days. Selfless work, incisive results, the all seeing eye of aerial photography. Bruce Gordon and the other volunteer pilots are the unsung heroes of modern environmentalism and land use policy. Maps are made by men, with agendas. God's Eye imagery has unblinking veracity. The marriage of them needs to be sound.

I've also been collecting LANDSAT photos and other space-based earth resources imagery since 1974.

We may have developed this marvelous technology just in the nick of time... I only wish the current budget climate allowed the USA to develop and launch many more earth observing satellites and the fund the data centers and research nodes to turn pixels into policy.

And now, my skewbald comment: the Republicans and the Exxon-Mobil BP 's et al of the political universe cannot dispute good aerial imagery, whether taken from Bruce's Cessna 205 (210?) from a few thousand feet above ground, or NASA's TERRA-AQUA and the other " A" train satellites from 435 miles up.

Even Google Earth is an oracle.

Tell your Congressmen we need to fully fund space based earth resources programs and a robust weather satellite system going forward. We are about to enter a critical satellite gap just when we need them most. Nothing less than the survival of the human specie is at stake.

Support EcoFLight , too, while yer at it.

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