During the winter season many of our flights depart IFR from our base in snowy Aspen, Colorado. In aircraft parlance that can be interpreted as "I follow roads". The valley is filled with snow showers of unknown intensity as we bob and weave our way downvalley, following HWY 82 and the Roaring Fork River, a major tributary of the mighty Colorado. Out onto the Colorado Plateau, now following HWY 330, the showers start to dissipate, and once again we get a wonderful panorama of red rock country shrouded in white...
The Thompson Divide issue continues to evolve in 2014, with an independent study released in February that found there to be "little to no economic viability for the drilling of oil or gas wells on the leases within the Thompson Divide area" - all the more reason to allow for lease buyout and expiration. The BLM has acknowledged that most of the leases it sold in the area were issued illegally and without proper environmental review or roadless-area protections; they are therefore committed to doing an environmental review of the illegal leases...
At EcoFlight we pride ourselves on targeting members of diverse communities. What could be more diverse than an interesting array of scientists, biologists and conservationists meeting in a small town, and discussing the big issues of the day, notably unconventional oil in North America, and climate change...
The fast moving storm approached, the barometer dropped to 28.98, the wind howled and the first flakes of snow turned the horizon opaque as Triangle Mountain disappeared into the void. How were we going to get our Flight Across America (FLAA) students airborne? After a lengthy selection process we had 8 highly motivated, curious and intelligent students chomping at the bit to get into our 3 planes and learn more about wilderness and the alphabet soup of the numerous designations that protect our public lands.

The Navajo Nation and Utah Diné Bikéyah have offered their vision for the protection and management of natural and cultural resources on federal lands in San Juan County, Utah. After identifying important cultural and biological areas, including Cedar Mesa, maps were combined to create the boundaries of the proposed 1.9 million acre Diné Bikéyah National Conservation Area which includes wilderness designations and co-managed areas.

It reminded me of a time long, long ago in a far-off land when I was in the military, and we were sometimes jolted awake and scrambled into readiness for some unknown threat. In this day and age it wasn't a trumpet call or a siren but a social media alert on Facebook sent to me by my daughter Tamsin, saying that as of Monday of the floods in Colorado, there was a news blackout on the flooded oil and gas wells...
Every spring, millions of ducks and geese pass through the Prairie Pothole Region to nest in the grasslands. After glaciers from the last ice age receded, they left behind the largest grassland in the world, the Great Plains of North America. Millions of shallow ponds formed wetlands that are now known as prairie potholes. These wetlands are globally significant because their rich habitat supports breeding populations of migratory waterfowl.
Idaho is right up there with the last best place. It's downright enchanting looking down from 1XE into steep canyons, and steeper mountain ranges bisected by raging tributaries of the Salmon River... and even a bit intimidating, as I fly from Montana's last best place of Wise River, gold medal trout river, SW of Butte, and make a beeline straight over the River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho.
With a slowing domestic demand for coal, companies have been looking at foreign markets for exports where they can fetch a higher price. The royalties paid to the government however, do not reflect those higher prices, meaning states are missing out on millions of dollars.
The Bitterroot River is reporting a 30-year low for water levels, leaving a shortage of water for irrigators. The river is used by farmers and ranchers to irrigate their crops south of Missoula. Many farmers switched to cereal crops this year in anticipation of a dry season, but others will need more water to sustain their crops through the rest of the year. With the river flowing at nearly half of normal, and expected to drop even lower, there may not be enough water to go around.
EcoFlight is excited to support Wild Connections in their effort to document and map lands with wilderness characteristics in the Royal Gorge Field Office. As the BLM updates its management of these areas, they are gathering data for mapping and assessment of natural areas like Mitchell Gulch, Table Mountain and the Thompson/Gribble areas. This data is very important because it allows for qualified BLM land - often lower altitude and overlooked - to be designated as wilderness and thus given more protection in their upcoming land management plans.
Outdoor enthusiasts come to hike, climb, mountain bike and camp among the red-rocks and canyons. Most people who visit Moab are familiar with Canyonlands and Arches, but many do not realize that the geological formation that makes this place unique extends beyond the park, covering over 1.4 million acres.
We flew over lands within the Middle Fork Clearwater-Selway Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project. The project includes watershed restoration, fuels management, timber harvest, weed treatments and other activities on a large-landscape level. The project was developed by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest and the Clearwater Basin Collaborative
The Shoshone National Forest forms the eastern border of Yellowstone National Park and includes portions of the stunning  Wind River, Beartooth and Absaroka mountain ranges. Our flights took us over some of the key areas recommended for wilderness designation in the Forest Plan, including the DuNoir Special Management Unit and the Wood River/Franc's Peak roadless areas, all of which have incredible wildlife values.
Noxious weeds are as big a threat as any on the Front. Noxious weeds destroy plant diversity by pushing out other species that support wildlife and grazing. Using GPS technology, landowners are mapping out patches of invasive weeds like leafy spurge and spotted knapweed for repeated treatments in an effort to stop them from spreading. EcoFlight provided overflights for the Rocky Mountain Front Weed Roundtable to locate and map out patches of leafy spurge so that landowners and managers can treat and monitor those sites.
The contrasts are ubiquitous - from our posh breakfast in one of Aspen's finest dining establishments to a bar in Williston, straight out of a scene from one of the Star Wars epics; from 761XE departing Aspen in heavily laden clouds over spring-verdant valleys and mountains, to 761XE arriving in an equally verdant but totally Mad Max type of landscape - a fragmented North Dakota, orange clay roads spiderwebbing their way to thousands of oil wells, and flares and flames erupting from many of the well pads.
Sierra Club’s ED, Michael Brune, is touring our National Parks, Monuments and other wildlands in the West as part of their “Our Wild America” campaign, He stopped in Rifle, Colorado, to look at the Roan Plateau, and EcoFlight flew him, the press, and others from the Sierra Club, over the Roan and surrounding devastating industrial development. On the ground, Brune met with nearby residents who have been impacted by the industry. They discussed what it is like to live in the gas fields, and talked about the Sierra Club’s policy work to promote protective regulations and support clean energy.
As part of EcoFlight's continuing education program, 18 students from Carbondale participated in overflights and a discussion of responsible oil and gas development and the Thompson Divide. We were joined by local conservation groups who are working on the issue for a lively discussion at the Glenwood Springs airport.
Vane Minerals is proposing  a new uranium mine on the rim of the Grand Canyon, and within the watershed of the Havasupai Tribe. Since the mine is on state land, it is not included in the 2012 twenty year mining ban on 1 million acres of federal land surrounding the national park. The Havasupai are concerned about impacts to their health and economy, and the threats to their primary source of drinking water.
One of the prettiest flights there is starts right here in Aspen in the Roaring Fork Valley. Our flight path takes us to Taos, New Mexico, flying right over the West Elks and into the San Luis Valley, supposedly the highest and largest alpine valley in the world containing one of the largest freshwater aquifers in North America. From there we skirt the Sangre de Cristo Range and look over on the other side of the valley at the Winnemuche Wilderness and the magnificent San Juans. We are heading down to the newly designated Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument...