Newsletter Summer 2009

Aug 4, 2009

Dominguez Canyons- Wilderness Wonderlands


dominguez canyon

Dominguez Canyon. (c) Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight 2009.

We at the Colorado Environmental Coalition (CEC) began brainstorming ways to celebrate the recent designation of the 210,000 acre Dominguez Escalante National Conservation Area (NCA) which includes the 66,000 acre enclosed Dominguez Canyons Wilderness, and we immediately thought, we need pictures, beautiful pictures. We needed to convey the magnitude of this protective designation, and our thoughts turned to EcoFlight.

The stunning overhead shots we captured that day provide a visual record of what makes this wild place so unique. Specifically, the wilderness area's elevation range, from 4,800 feet along the Gunnison River to 9,000 feet on the Uncompahgre Plateau, results in great topographic and biologic diversity.

The ecosystems are as disparate as upper Sonoran desert along the Gunnison River and Douglas fir-aspen forests higher on the plateau, resulting in an equally diverse array of wildlife. From mule deer, elk, black bear, pronghorn, and numerous upland game birds inhabiting the upper reaches of the area, to concentrations of bald eagles wintering along the Gunnison River.

The physical diversity of this landscape is rivaled only by the diversity of recreational opportunities found there. The winding canyon bottoms offer over 30 miles of exploration for hikers, photographers, and horse-back riders; and the mesa tops provide magnificent vistas which include the San Juans, Grand Mesa, the West Elk Mountains, the canyon bottoms, and soaring sandstone cliffs. For the more scientifically minded visitor, the canyons and mesas are full of biological, archaeological, paleontological and geological points of interest. The area is rich in fossilized bones from the Jurassic Period - previous nearby finds include portions of Ultrasaurus, the largest dinosaur ever discovered.

In helping us put photographers in the air above this landscape, EcoFlight made it possible for us to capture the wonder of this scenic canyon and wildlife refuge.

Kate Graham, Colorado Environmental Coalition.


Letter from the President


Bruce refuel web_NLpk


Dear Friends and Supporters,

As the country rocks and reels from this great recession, conservationists are keeping their eye on the ball. A dedicated band of concerned citizens and elected officials are working diligently to repair damages from past administrations, and are proactively putting policies in place that are sustainable and healthy for our environment.

New bills are being introduced into Congress, bringing back a balanced approach to our public lands.  The monumental legislation of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act has rewarded the incredible hard work we have been honored to be part of for the last 8 years.  EcoFlight has brought the aerial perspective to many of the wild landscapes that are now protected with this Act.  A sampling would include the wilderness additions of the Dominguez Canyons and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Owhyee in Idaho, and the Wyoming Range and Snake River in Wyoming.

As we enter the flying season of 2009 we are already busy at work.  Our bi-annual trip to Belize was a huge success. Our flights with Alaskan tribal leaders in Nevada once again provided the needed perspective to understand the enormity and complexity of gold mining.  Beetles beetles everywhere are turning into a huge issue as they rampage across the west from the Eastern slope of Colorado to the very heart of Yellowstone.  Working with NRDC, Geographics and the Forest Service we are at work doing a detailed scientific survey of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem white bark pine to establish base line data for climate change.

Our mission of education and advocacy for the environment by aircraft now has the added impetus of web outreach - a virtual stream of information and images gathered from our flights. Our Captain's Log monthly email blasts inform people of interesting flights; our Conservation Bulletins update our partner organizations and media when we will be in their areas; and our participation in social media sites like Facebook is aimed at new and younger audiences, inspiring them to get involved and have their voices heard.

Springtime has finally evolved into summer in the Rockies and we are excited about the impact we will have in our already busy flying season. We are encouraged by the diligence and resolve of all who are working to make our planet a healthier place to live.

Bruce Gordon



Xateros, Loggers - Denude Belizean National Parks


belize clearcut NLsumm09pk


A xate for those of you who don’t know is an ‘ornamental’palm that grows in pristine Belizean jungles. A xatero is the name for the Guatemalan men and boys who illegally harvest these lucrative palms from Belizean National Parks and export them to luxury gardens in the USA and Europe, where it is in high demand.  These xateros and illegal loggers cross the border, which is hospitable terrain on the Guatemalan side into mountainous thick jungle on the Belizean side, an area with no

access roads, very difficult to traverse by foot.

EcoFlight provided flights for the Chiquibul Maya Mountain program, Friends for Conservation & Development and Belizean security forces over this imperiled border area and found the extent of illegal land clearings far worse than expected. The fly-overs also provided coordinates for the
security forces to follow up on foot.

There is more than just illegal logging of precious woods, cutting xate, clearing, building settlements and looting of archaeological sites to this story.  Guatemala has claimed Belizean territory for 150 years, ever since the colonial era. In 1839, after the United Provinces of Central America was dissolved, Guatemala claimed sovereignty over Belize as an “inheritance” from Spain, a claim rejected by the British because neither Spain nor any Central American entity had
ever occupied Belizean territory.  Conflict has existed for many years between the two nations along with a series of confrontations among the military forces, communities, and
fishermen in the two countries.

The Guatemalans have acted with impunity and these incursions are likely to continue unless the Belizean government does something very effective to address this growing problem.

Hydraulic Fracturing - a High Industrial Art?


fraccing web NLsumm09

Fraccing in process at top entrance to tunnel, top of Roan Plateau, CO.

(c) Jane Pargiter, EcoFlight 2008.


Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fraccing’, is a process that helps stimulate natural gas production in gasfields particularly for ‘tight sands’ and coalbed methane development and is used in many of the gasfields around the West.  Millions of gallons of fluid—a mixture of sand, water, and a ‘proprietary’ mix of chemicals—are injected into the ground at high pressure to fracture, or split, the sandstone and other gas-bearing formations  and allow higher quantities of gas to flow to the well and thus off to market.


A growing number of states, gaspatch communities, and residents are becoming increasingly concerned about the presence of these unknown chemicals in their midst, the regulation of which was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act by the then Republican-controlled Congress in 2005.  Concerns include the effects of toxic spills and exposures - as well as contamination of ground water sources.  A Colorado ER nurse was sent to the ICU last year after

treating an oilfield worker exposed to undisclosed fraccing chemicals.


In most cases, full disclosure of fraccing chemicals is not required, and companies carefully guard their make-up as proprietary information.  However, even an incomplete analysis of chemicals used shows that many are known toxins with adverse health effects from exposure, according to research done by The Endocrine Disruption Exchange.


Colorado congresswoman Diana DeGette is working to bring the regulation of the use of these chemicals back under the protections envisioned by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the State of Colorado recently enacted new regulations to improve disclosure of which chemicals are used in the fraccing process.  The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group, has filed suit to overturn the state regulations and is fighting attempts to regulate fraccing at the federal level under the Safe Drinking Water Act.


Pete Kolbenschlag, Mountain West Strategies, CO.