From the complexities of the largest proposed dam removal in US history to the strange politics of a mine actually supported by environmental groups, this trip to Idaho involved some turbulent topics. The trip started as most do, flying past familiar terrain and reminiscing on past flight missions.
Leaving our freshly snow-capped backyard fourteeners, we crossed out of Colorado and into Wyoming’s high Red Desert near Rock Springs, home to America’s longest mule deer migration route. EcoFlight has flown many missions with Wyoming conservation partners, highlighting how modern infrastructure (highways, railroads, oil and gas development) degrades habitat and impacts wildlife movement, disrupting migration routes that animals have followed for millennia. The bird’s-eye view facilitates discussion and promotes solutions to minimize disruptions to fauna and surroundings.
Cobalt is an important mineral used in EV battery production and other industrial applications. Currently, most of the cobalt used in the US is sourced from the geopolitically troubled Congo. Idaho’s cobalt lodes, deep beneath the earth near Challis, are the largest known reserves in the nation. Developing them in a responsible way will be challenging and the aerial perspective makes clear the environmental risks that mining operations and their associated infrastructure can pose to local watersheds, fisheries and downstream water users. However, our flight passengers at Idaho Conservation League are optimistic, and are working with the cobalt company to ensure mining is conducted with the highest regard to ethics and environmental health.
From Challis’ expansive stretches of wild mountain ranges, we embarked to the Idaho-Washington border, near the small, river-centered town of Lewiston. Although Lewiston, Idaho, is more than 300 nautical miles from the Pacific Ocean, it is considered a seaport! A series of dams installed about 60 years ago facilitates economical barge transport of wheat from the Clearwater and Snake Rivers to the Pacific coast for export to Asia and beyond.
The dams also facilitate inland cruise ships – an odd sight to see in the landlocked state of Idaho. Approximately 20,000 people take cruises annually between Vancouver, Washington, and the Lewiston Seaport. Unfortunately, the dams have decimated salmon runs, warmed the river’s water and tamed its original flow.
Our flights with stakeholders from Idaho Conservation League, American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Northwest Grain Growers, Lewis-Clark Terminal, and Nez Perce Tribe highlighted potential additions to rail routes in the event that Rep. Simpson’s proposal to breach the lower four dams on the Snake actually happens. It was satisfying to pilot these flights that play such an important role in meaningful and passionate discussions between the disparate groups. I am optimistic that this issue will have fruitful outcomes and grateful that EcoFlight continues to play a role in fostering beneficial discussions and creating the most positive outcomes.
Gary Kraft, EcoFlight Pilot