These now permanent ‘camps’ provide refuge for general aviation pilots, and might be of the
corporate variety like Atlantic Aviation or Signature, with all the luxuries that come along with
servicing heavy metal (jets), or they can be of the mom-and-pop type operations, where the
owners fly crop dusters, fix their own planes, distribute fuel, and have local knowledge in rural
settings, like the early days.
1XE has experienced a wide array of FBOs. Memorable FBOs include Atlantic Aviation in Palm
Springs with B&W images adorning the walls; think Dean, Sinatra and Marilyn, to the outback of
Salmon, Idaho, where the walls are hung with trophy shots of endangered species.
I think of these differences as I flew our last battery of flights up into our great Northwest. I think it was the northwest as sometimes, with all the smoke, it was hard to tell the north from the west. First stop was a small FBO, owned and maintained by a local and very helpful gentleman from Livingston, Montana. They used to crop-dust out of the FBO, but Livingston is experiencing urban growth and gentrification, and gentlemen landowners are now arriving in droves in their jets. The owner pumps fuel by himself with a generous smile, whether you are in a large jet or a tiny Cessna. He uses an old skateboard to save time while zipping around the tarmac between pumping fuel and helping pilots with their gear. We based out of there while flying mining issues current and past on the border of Yellowstone Park. We reminisced as we flew a celebratory flight over a major victory from our early days of conservation-flying – the closure of the Noranda New World Mine in 1996, and over recent victories halting mining exploration for the Emigrant and Crevice Mines, all right on the border of Yellowstone.
Next stop: Seeley, Montana, flying into the heart of the Swan Valley, near where Lewis and Clark made their way across the Continental Divide. The Seeley airstrip has no FBO or services of any kind, except the errant water sprinklers keeping the grass strip serviceable, and bicycles to ride into town. We flew the Chairwoman and Tribal Counsel for the Salish and Kootenai Tribes, The Nature Conservancy, and local land owners to look at biological corridors, the state of the forest that lies between some of the great wilderness areas like the Bob Marshall and the
Scapegoat and the Missions mountains. Our passengers planned and discussed the future and the historical and cultural importance of this landscape and watershed that is part of the Crown
of the Continent. I always refer to the Crown of the Continent as the last best place. It encompasses over 10-million acres and has some of the most intact wildlands on the planet. Amazingly it still has most of the plant and wildlife that those intrepid explorers, Lewis and Clark, encountered in 1806. It is a byway connecting vital habitat in Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall and the Salmon-Selway wilderness areas.
The smoke was not done with us yet as we flew to Missoula for fuel at a midsized FBO, equipped with rental cars, a small staff, WIFI and all the modern necessities. These flights were with TRCP (Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership), The Nature Conservancy and a gaggle of press looking at landscapes acquired from Plum Timber interests and bringing attention to a much-needed forest plan revision, last done 35 years ago, for the Lolo and Bitterroot forests. It is imperative these plans be updated as so much has changed in 35 years, and urgent planning
is needed as, like it or not, climate change is upon us.
Oh yes, a couple of more flights over canyons carved out by the Owyhee River, on the borders of Nevada, Idaho and Oregon and on into the high desert floor. Tribal interests, hunters and conservationists alike have concerns about new proposals for low level flights by the Air Force operating even lower in their MOAs (Military Operation Areas). They are proposing fighter jet flights just 100 feet above ground level (AGL) and supersonic flights as low as 5,000 feet. in the Jarbidge Mountains. These fighter jets accompanied by their sonic booms would disturb local populations of sage grouse, bighorn sheep, and bull trout, as well as those who recreate in the area.
Then home into the OMG (Oh My Gosh) more smoke, making our way slowly home to Aspen, Colorado, and our home base FBO, Atlantic Aviation. So many acronyms, so many compelling issues and so many dedicated and interesting people working to keep the West a well-balanced place for wildlife habitat and an economically stable environment.