The flash of lightning and the boom of thunder interrupted our instructor. I was startled back to full consciousness as I had been sitting in a classroom in Denver, Colorado, staring out the window at rain soaked clouds and a deep undercast. My thoughts drifted from my CFI renewal course to our upcoming flights in Colorado Springs, in support of the Western Governors' Association annual meeting at the historic Broadmoor Hotel.
On June 20th, a storage tank attached to an oil well damaged by recent flooding spilled 7,500 gallons of crude oil into the Cache La Poudre River near Windsor. Spring flood waters undercutting a bank caused the tank to drop downward and damage a valve, dumping oil into the river and impacting vegetation a quarter-mile downstream.
The longest ungulate migration ever recorded in the lower 48 was recently discovered by a group of researchers at the University of Wyoming. Migration routes of mule deer were found to extend 150 miles from the Red Desert via the Wind River Range to its northernmost point of Hoback Junction in the Wyoming Range.

The Wyoming Range campaign, thanks to an unprecedented show of local and national support, has protected much of the Wyoming Range from natural gas development. The Trust for Public Lands, working on behalf of several local groups, including the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Citizens for the Wyoming Range and The Wilderness Society, reached a deal with Plains Exploration and Production in 2012 to sell leases for about 58,000 acres of land in the Upper Hoback Basin.

EcoFlight’s annual student program, Flight Across America (FLAA) brings the aerial perspective of wildlands to students who are studying issues on public lands. EcoFlight hosted a student seminar on wilderness last fall, and recently conducted overflights of wild lands for the students who participated.
A sportsmen’s coalition of eight groups and organizations and 16 Western Slope businesses are asking the BLM to conserve key undeveloped backcountry lands in western Colorado. Conserving these lands will help maintain hunting traditions and our Western way of life in this area of western Colorado. As part of the effort to protect these areas, EcoFlight provided overflights for members of the coalition along with the press.
After what has turned out to be a very busy and productive March flying schedule due to some long awaited good news about the Colorado River (see Spring 2014 Newsletter) we are back on the Captain Log airways. 1XE lifted off to the far reaches of our known world or continent.... California. A strange and wonderful state populated or over-populated by a mixture of do-gooders and do-badders.
Growing demand for water, relentless drought, and climate change are creating a water deficit of almost 1 million acre-feet a year in the Colorado River system. Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoirs are half empty, and scientists predict that they will probably never fill again. The water supply of more than 22 million people in the three Lower Basin states is in jeopardy.
The reason for this set of flights in Southern California was to give elected officials and others involved in conservation an aerial perspective of the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (CVMSHCP).  The CVMSHCP is a regional conservation plan that will add over 240,000 acres of permanently conserved open space and protect 27 species, safeguarding the desert's natural heritage for future generations.
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.