CONSERVATION COLORADO 10-16-15 Conservation taking flight

Oct 16, 2015

Like most hikers, I’m always searching for new areas to explore. So when I began working on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan (ECO RMP) earlier this year, I saw it as an opportunity to discover a plethora of new drainages, ridgelines, and trails which are all within a couple hours drive of Denver. However, I felt I had barely scratched the surface of what this area, known as the Arkansas River Canyonlands, has to offer.

Fortunately, I was recently invited to participate in a flight over the Canyonlands with the nonprofit Eco-Flight. To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive about getting onto a single-engine six-seater but knew this was something I couldn’t pass up. To my surprise, the flight was as smooth as a commercial jet liner and the perspective I gained was something I’ll remember for years to come.

We departed slightly south of Buena Vista and flew east toward the newly-designated Browns Canyon National Monument. As we flew over the monument my face was glued to window as I stared down upon the granite outcroppings, hoodoos, and rock spires that make this area worthy of national monument designation.

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Our flight plan then took us south toward Badger Creek and slightly east of the town of Salida. Badger Creek and nearby Jack Hall Mountain contains a grove of bristlecone pine trees, one of the oldest living tree species on earth, and is among the approximately 250,000 acres found by citizen surveys to be eligible as lands with wilderness character (LWC).

This identification can help protect areas from natural resource extraction or construction of new roads and is a powerful conservation tool available to the BLM outside of congressionally designated wilderness. Note that it’s through the BLM’s resource management planning process that decisions about LWCs are made. But the BLM needs to hear overwhelming public support to protect these wildlands.

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From there, the flight continued southeast past the tiny town of Howard and toward Table Mountain, another proposed LWC. It was then that I had one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments and realized how the lack of roads and absence of other signs from human development have created a haven of unfragmented wildlife habitat for species such as bighorn sheep, black bear, elk, deer and many others.

I also began to feel a sense of urgency and desire to make more people aware and ensure the BLM knows there’s ample public support for the protection of the Arkansas River Canyonlands. After another half hour or so we headed back to Buena Vista for a smooth and safe landing.

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To protect these outstanding wildlands over the next year we will need widespread community involvement and support as the BLM works on draft alternatives to managing these lands. In the meantime, I hope you’ll find sometime to explore this wild and remote area within a couple hours drive of Denver.

– Josh

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