We see Montana’s vast landscape in a beautiful arc curving toward distant horizons. The deeper we look, the more we see, the more we understand. Challenges abound. Bruce Gordon and I (Jane Pargiter) take off our in our Cessna 210 every summer and are lucky enough to spend 30 to 40 days flying collaborative groups and the press over Montana to give them the big bird’s eye view perspective on Montana’s environmental challenges.
A vast forest in the Seeley-Swan area is wild and expansive, but the browning of trees signals a massive attack by pine beetles. The patchwork quilt of agricultural land in the grasslands of north central Montana, near Malta, is green with spring, but is being chewed up by oil and gas drill rigs looking for cheap energy. The Clark Fork River is slowly coming back to trout breeding health but needs more restoration from toxic mining. The Tongue River Valley and Otter Creek ranchlands and agricultural valleys are being leased for dirty coal mines.
EcoFlight offers perspectives on these and many other issues. First, an aerial overview from a small aircraft provides invaluable oversight on the enormity of challenges to the natural world. Second, an issues-based dialogue on what is unfolding below – delivered by scientists, indigenous peoples, and experts in environmental fields – stirs dialogue, discussion and debate. The big picture unfolds from the cockpit of a small airplane, while on the ground this oversight perspective finds relevance in current events and issues of pressing importance.
Bruce and I come back each year to do this work for a number of reasons. Montana and the neighboring state of Idaho together form one of the last truly wild places left in the lower 48. We have come to love the Montanans we have met from communities neighboring these wild places. Montanans are expansive and laidback, just like their landscapes. We have learned to know the mountain trails in the high country and the roaring creeks that turn into broad lazy rivers on the plains – the life blood of this state. Roy Jacobs and Corlene Martin in Choteau have taken us deep into roadless areas on the Rocky Mountain Front, the wilderness that abuts their homes. They have shown us that hunting, outfitting, horseback riding and walking are integral to this last wild bastion in Montana.
In Wise River and on the Big Hole River, Chuck and Tom, men who are the salt of the earth, show us that fishing and the wildlife are what bring tourists into these areas and keep the economy rolling and how important it is to keep these gold medal waters clean and the trout healthy.
Each year EcoFlight provides perspective to decision makers, media representatives, elected officials, conservationists, activists, students and educators in Montana who gain the context on which to base their future actions. An experience with EcoFlight is often the catalyst that spurs action, creates advocacy, and instills commitment.
EcoFlight works with multiple partners - the strength of our work lies in our collaboration with groups on the ground - we provide them with the powerful bird's eye view perspective - seeing the landscape as a whole: how watersheds play a part in wildlife corridors and how these knit together in the greater landscape and where communities fit in.
We work with groups from grassroots level up to the national level. Some of our local partners in Montana are Clark Fork Coalition, Save the Front, growing up to regional partners such as Northern Plains Resource Council, Headwaters Montana, Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Wildlife Federation up to our national partners, groups like NRDC, The Wilderness Society and Sonoran Institute.
Environmental degradation now threatens the last of our nation’s biodiversity and intact roadless areas. Our goal is to work towards sustaining the healthy ecosystems of the Intermountain West. One of the ways we implement this is to respond to industry pressures by working with our partners to prevent oil and gas development on sensitive landscapes, or to ensure that if it does occur, that it is done responsibly with respect to habitat, landscapes, wildlife, air and water.
Changes that EcoFlight works towards as ultimate outcomes are to maintain the integrity of our public lands in the West and to protect our ecosystems; to have policies in place that will encompass a reduction in air and water pollution and harmful climate change, and to ultimately achieve environmentally sustainable management of our energy, land and water resources.
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