LONE PEAK LOOKOUT 7-19-18 Wilderness From the Sky

Jul 19, 2018

Original article: http://www.lonepeaklookout.com/news/wilderness-sky

In an ongoing effort to generate public support for a number of local Wilderness Study Areas, the Montana Wilderness Association organized a flyover of various WSAs located south of Big Sky on July 9. The flyover was made possible by the generous donation of flight time in a Cessna 210 operated by EcoFlight out of Colorado. EcoFlight is a nonprofit that coordinates with conservation groups in the West to provide an aerial view of important wild areas in the western states. The flyover was organized by Ted Brewer, communications director of the Montana Wilderness Association. MWA opposes the attempt by Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte to revert the WSAs back to general use public lands, which could then be degraded by motorized recreation and resource development.

The overflights on a beautiful summer morning carried local conservationists and press representatives south along the Madison River and the Gravelly Range towards the Centennial Valley and the Continental Divide and then west towards Dillon, before swinging back to the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. Rick Waldrup of Dillon—a recently retired employee of the Bureau of Land Management—acted as tour guide on the flights. Waldrup spent many years helping to manage the local WSAs and provided input to Montana’s leaders and others on the future of wilderness in the area.

Bruce Gordon, the founder of EcoFlight and the pilot, made a strong case for the impact of flyovers. They allow people to see significant portions of wild country from the air and the obvious lack of human impacts on those tracts. More significantly in the case of the WSAs in this area, the flyover showcased the clear natural corridor that runs from the west boundary of Yellowstone National Park through the Centennial Valley towards the country around Dillon. Local conservation groups maintain that grizzlies need to intermix with other groups of bears to maintain genetic diversity. The Centennial Mountains are an important link in the corridor that would allow bears to move between Yellowstone and Glacier. From the air, the wild nature of the Centennial Mountains and the natural migration corridor they provide are obvious.

Gordon has flown for EcoFlight all over the West and maintained that Montana holds some of the last, unspoiled country in the U.S. Most other locations where he has flown are roaded and contain impacts from industrial development such as mining, logging and oil and gas development. These impacts can be long lasting and disrupt wildlife migration routes.

Indeed, the main impact of an overflight is seeing the difference between pristine wilderness from the air on a summer morning and the look of industrial operations, like those in the Virginia City area—some of which are dredge piles created in the 1860s and are still visible from the air. This contrast provided a stark reminder of the effects of development on once wild country.