Newsletter Spring 2008

Apr 26, 2008

How Protected are our National Treasures?



Aerial view of a kiva, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
(c) Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight 2008.


Ecoflight and San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA) have been working over the past three years to document the impacts of energy development in the Four Corners Region where coal, natural gas, and uranium extraction issues are prevalent.  Energy development is intensive in the area surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.  Chaco NHP is designated as a World Heritage Site and is one of the finest examples of Puebloan culture centers in the southwestern United States (inhabited 850-1250 AD). Visitors to Chaco are drawn to the classic mesa/canyon area to see significant archaeological features that include architecture, rock art and pottery; and archaeological-astronomical features associated with the night sky.  Chaco remains a relatively remote setting that was believed to be a spiritual, trading and/or cultural center of the ancestral Puebloan culture.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 expedites rampant energy development of energy intensive areas in the Four Corners Region with streamlined permitting of projects that minimizes cumulative, “big-picture,” analysis of impacts.  With reliance on the Four Corners Region to provide natural gas, coal and uranium reserves and revenue, it has become increasingly evident of the importance to protect places such as Chaco NHP.  Two recent situations have highlighted the threats to Chaco NHP and the complexity of land management issues that the public is facing:

In March of 2007, Cimarex Energy Company, proposed two natural gas pads with 4 wells on the southern boundary of Chaco Culture NHP on state of New Mexico Trust land.  The land surrounding Chaco Culture NHP is a checkerboard of federal, state of New Mexico and Navajo Nation surface ownership with leasable minerals.  Following opposition from SJCA, other groups and media oversight; Cimarex decided to postpone exploration and possible development of the well sites. In addition, Cimarex pledged to work with the State Land Office and the State Historic Preservation Office “to reach a mutual beneficial solution in order to obtain equal value for what we perceive to be the loss incurred by not being able to develop our Leases.” In December of 2007, a meeting was held at Congressman Tom Udall's office to discuss  creating a buffer zone around Chaco that would prevent attempts to drill natural gas wells on the boundary of the park. This problem of leased natural gas sites on lands adjacent to Chaco and the buffer zone idea have not been resolved to date.

The second issue is that San Juan County, NM wants to pave County Road 7950, the primary 16-mile dirt road to the park. As CR7950 is currently unpaved, the number of visitors to Chaco remains moderate. If the road is paved, not only will the remote experience for visitors be diminished, but additional visitors could severely impact the park's archaeological treasures. Chaco is currently subject to a decreased budget which limits the number of NPS personnel in the park and work on current infrastructure in issues in the park.  The NEPA document for potential paving of the road to Chaco will probably be released in late 2008.  In April 2008, Ecoflight and SJCA personnel visited Chaco and flew over the park on the following day.  The purpose was to gain a perspective of the area to determine if energy development is currently encroaching on Chaco and to further understand management issues confronting the park.  The overflight allowed an overview of existing energy development as we flew south from Farmington towards Chaco. We were extremely fortunate to have photographer Carlan Tapp documenting the ground and aerial tour of the area. His photos will be used to educate the public as to the plight of public lands, the threats to special places like Chaco Culture NHP, and the true costs to communities and natural resources as a result of intensive energy development.  The results of our visit to Chaco and the overflight confirm that energy development is creeping towards Chaco.  Our battle will go on to make sure that Chaco Culture NHP is protected and retains the character that makes it such an important destination in the Four Corners as a World Heritage Site.

Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance, NM

Letter from the President




Dear Friends and Supporters,


Busy, busy as spring is trying to emerge in the Rocky Mountains after a record winter.  The flying season has begun in full as we weave our flights in between the storms still passing through the region every few days.  With Election Day looming, there is a push to lease as many lands as possible for energy development before November.  This further reduces the balanced approach the general public and conservation community are looking for in our public lands.  The press has been tracking down cases of impropriety in the industry - in the Wyoming Range, and the oil spill in Parachute Creek (which Ecoflight helped locate), examples of the BLM’s inadequate rules and regulations that cannot keep up with the massive amounts of drilling and industrialization of the land.

In April we flew the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources again.  IJNR provides hard hitting conference style formats to teach journalists how to handle environmental issues in a way that will grab the public’s attention.  The focus was America’s energy for the new century in the Four Corners region. Over 25 elite journalists came to Farmington and Durango to study the vast abundances of coal, oil, natural gas and the sun, wind and geothermal alternatives in this area. EcoFlight provided the aerial perspective to give these journalists a better grasp on the scale of this energy development, resulting in numerous published articles around the country.  We continue to work with conferences as a way to provide the most bang for the buck, flying large groups of journalists together with scientific experts and generating multiple articles.  This conference format also brought us to Jackson, WY in May to fly for the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Symposium sponsored by Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation.

With fuel prices going through the roof, the pressure by the current administration is to ratchet up the speed of their leasing as their ubiquitous reign over our public wild lands winds down; to open up any and all lands in our Rocky Mountain West that just might yield oil and gas, regardless of the location, rules, or public comments. The concept of sustainability and the voice of the people are being ignored in this final rush to lease before November.  It is imperative that we stay vigilant and speak out about this accelerated push.



Bruce Gordon,

President, EcoFlight



A Silver Lining



Congressman Mark Udall talking to the press after his EcoFlight over the Piceance Basin.
(c) Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight 2008.


Throughout the past few years there has been an unprecedented assault on our public lands.  Big industry has had enormous influence over policy decision on our western lands and hence land and water and air quality have been compromised.

One of the silver linings in this battle to save our wild lands is the bipartisan alliances that are being formed to strengthen the voice for our lands.  Land owners, hunters, fishermen, outfitters and conservationists are coming together proactively to protect the land in the West. Ten years ago these groups would have insisted they had nothing in common.  Now they are finding that they all care deeply about the rape of the land by the BLM and energy industries.

Recently Congressman Mark Udall (D-Eldorado Springs) met with local sportsmen in Grand Junction, Colorado, where there are increasing concerns about wildlife habitat being compromised by the oil and gas drilling in the area.

The pressing issues of the Roan Plateau and the Piceance Basin were indelibly delineated from the air as EcoFlight took Congressman Udall over the area to better inform him for this meeting which resulted in spirited debate as everyone put their concerns on the table and suggested solutions.

EcoFlight is proud to support Mark Udall for Senate.  Bruce Gordon and Mark have a long history together as past climbing and outdoor enthusiasts and now partners for a sustainable habitable planet. He is a man of character, conviction, courage and commitment and will be a breath of fresh air in the Senate.

Is Colorado Air Toxic?



Air Pollution at Ship Rock in the Navajo Nation, a result of rampant
energy development in the San Juan Basin.
(c) Jane Pargiter, EcoFlight 2006.


In May this year the Air Pollution Control Division of Colorado’s Dept of Public Health and Environment had a stakeholders meeting in Grand Junction to specifically examine and assess the community health risk in Garfield County that is related to the Natural Gas Industry boom.

The meeting was well attended with panel discussions, hospital and health agency involvement and field trips to some of the industry’s sites.  EcoFlight provided aerial “field trips”, flying participants over the Roan Plateau and surrounding areas that are impacted by oil and gas development.

There are increasing concerns that not only is the landscape being fragmented and wildlife habitat destroyed but citizens are complaining about mounting health issues including increased respiratory health problems (asthma and allergies) and compromised immune systems due to the diminished air and water quality, traffic, dust and noise; in addition to a quality of lifestyle that has been destroyed due to this increase in natural gas drilling.

Scientific numbers were bandied about but it was noted that the “numbers” and databases were in the beginning stages and conclusions could not be drawn yet.  A gentleman from Wyoming stood up to face the panel and stated that in the Upper Green River Basin (an area of significant natural gas development) near the town of Pinedale, WY with its 2,000 inhabitants, the level of ground ozone air pollution has reached record numbers and could be compared with a city the size of Denver, Colorado.  The response from a panel member who represented the oil and gas industry was: “the cause of the ground ozone is meteorological”.  The Wyoming man shook his head, the crowd murmured in shock and thank goodness this comment provoked heated debate.  The denial that ozone pollution is rank in areas of high density natural gas production does not serve to improve quality controls in the industry, does not serve the health of neighboring communities and will not help abate global warming.

Four large spills totaling over one million gallons in an area north of Parachute have locals especially concerned about the quality of their irrigation water. Industry often uses a number of chemicals in the drilling of a well whether it is for drilling muds or hydraulic fracturing (forcing chemicals into the ground to make the process more productive). The waste water that comes up from these wells contains toxic or carcinogenic chemicals from the drilling process as well as petroleum by-products that are also found in the rock.

The communities that make up the Western Slope of Colorado are hopeful their concerns were heard as the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission is due to release their new rules with regard to health concerns in July 2008.  The industry is already crying foul which makes us shake our heads.



Endangered Species in Conflict-

Protecting the Jaguar



A cattle killing Jaguar Rehabilitation Program at Belize Zoo.
(c) John Kennedy, 2007.


Northern Belize is home to jungle that provides habitat for the highest concentration of jaguar in the country and pristine forest for the harpy eagle.  It is also home to diverse groups of peoples: Mennonite Farmers, Mayans and some Spanish. The Mennonites relocated to Belize in 1959 in search of a life free of religious persecution and the pressures of modern society. They were welcomed by the Belize government which exempted them from military services and certain taxes while allowing them freedom to practice their distinct form of Protestantism, and ability to farm as their own communities.  They are permitted to run their own local government, schools, banks and businesses.  The Mennonites are well respected for their strong work ethic, turning large sections of rural Belize into highly productive farming communities, providing services and products to the entire country.

Unfortunately, while in the process of taming the wild jungles of Belize, the Mennonites have not understood the value of the jungle or the purpose of protecting the unique jungle wildlife.  Large tracts of jungle are being cleared without any regard to the quantity or quality of jungle habitat remaining or to the wildlife that depends on the jungle.  The Mennonites feel threatened by animals they have no knowledge about (sixth grade is the average education level of this community) and therefore destroy animals that need their protection.  Two of the twelve Harpy Eagles that have been reintroduced to Belize as part of the Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program were gunned down and then mutilated by Mennonites in the Blue Creek area of Northern Belize.  Jaguars that are threatening their livestock are similarly trapped or hunted down.


The Belize Zoo is working with the "problem jaguar" issue, where livestock killing cats are brought to the zoo in order to undergo behavior modification. They are used for in situ research purposes, or, if possible, sent to zoos who would like to have them for their jaguar captive breeding programs.  There is a need for fresh genetic input in the captive population, so this is an important role for these cats to play.  The Belize Zoo is also working on education, especially with the Blue Creek community.  The education program is progressive and aggressive and will do a great deal to broaden the perspective of all wildlife and how these natural resources fit into the ecological scheme in Belize, to the benefit of all.