Buddy Program students talk land conservation during EcoFlight

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Buddy Program students talk land conservation during EcoFlight

Date: 03/12/2024     Category: News & Media     Author: Lucy Peterson     Publication: The Aspen Times    

Original Post ➡️

EcoFlight founder Bruce Gordon explains land and water conservation rights in the Roaring Fork Valley while flying past Mt. Sopris.
Lucy Peterson/The Aspen Times

Two months after hundreds of community members submitted comments supporting the U.S. Forest Service’s mineral withdrawal of the Thompson Divide, high school students with the Buddy Program flew above the divide to get a new perspective on conservation in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Roaring Fork High School students joined the nonprofit EcoFlight on Monday morning to see the valley from above. The students have been learning about conservation and land management in Colorado through the Aspen-based Buddy Program’s High School Outdoor Leadership, and recently met with representatives of Wilderness Workshop to discuss wilderness, water, and wildlife conservation efforts in western Colorado.

EcoFlight founder Bruce Gordon flies students over the Roaring Fork Valley.
Lucy Peterson/The Aspen Times

Students flew in a small plane piloted by Bruce Gordon, executive director and founder of EcoFlight, a nonprofit that focuses on land and resource management and conservation. 

While meeting with Wilderness Workshop, the students learned about the recent Thompson Divide mineral withdrawal application, an effort that Wilderness Workshop helped spearhead on the Western Slope. Community members, government bodies, and other stakeholders in the 224,713 acres of the Thompson Divide banded together to support protection of the mostly public land from new mineral leases on the land. 

Roaring Fork High School Freshman Max Mathis said seeing the Thompson Divide from the plane put conservation in the valley in a better perspective.

“It’s helped me understand really how small our valley is,” he said. “We need to protect the little water that we have.”

The students have also learned about the Roaring Fork, Crystal, and Frying Pan rivers and their importance as tributaries to the Colorado River. The class is meant to teach students about the important conservation efforts happening right in their backyards.

“We’ve learned that it’s really important to make sure we secure our outdoor spaces,” junior Gus Richardson said. “It’s important to make sure that even though oil and gas extraction isn’t inherently evil, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great idea for it to happen everywhere.”

EcoFlight was founded in Aspen 20 years ago and offers flights to students, policymakers, and other stakeholders in conservation. It has partnered with the Buddy Program’s High School Outdoor Leadership class for years. 

EcoFlight Conservation Programs Manager Lea Linse joined the team in 2022. Linse, who grew up in the valley, was inspired to join EcoFlight’s conservation efforts after she flew with the nonprofit while she was still in high school.

“That experience is a combination of doing the flight and then getting to see these landscapes from above and learn about them from experts who were also on the flight,” Linse said. “It was the thing that started me on getting into conservation and on this current career path.”

Other students have told her that they decided to pursue careers in conservation after taking a flight over the valley. 

“It’s one thing to learn about the landscape in the classroom,” she said. “A lot of them weren’t really sure where the Thompson
Divide was exactly. It’s close to home, but it’s really hard to relate to a place when you haven’t been there and seen it and that’s what we can give students on these flights.”

The conservation efforts in the valley have evolved since EcoFlight was founded. On Linse’s first EcoFlight, she learned about the effects of pine beetles.

Buddy Program students fly over the Roaring Fork Valley with EcoFlight.
Lucy Peterson/The Aspen Times