Newsletter Summer 2012

Aug 7, 2012

The Daily Show and the Two-Headed Trout


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Daily Show reporter, Ausif Mardia sends his regards to
J.R. Simplot's Smoky Canyon Phosphate Mine.


So there EcoFlight was with winds buffeting the plane ready for take-off, which energized the Daily Show’s intrepid TV reporter even more than when he showed up at the Idaho Falls EPA office dressed in his two-headed trout costume.

The story goes: Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) has been collecting fish samples of Yellowstone cutthroat trout and brook trout since 2005. They have found mutant, deformed fish due to unacceptable levels of selenium pollution from phosphate mining in both the fish and the streams, and have been pushing hard for cleanup of the 17 Superfund mining sites in SE Idaho.

In May, The Daily Show contacted GYC who in turn contacted EcoFlight – we had a breaking story of a two-headed baby trout found in these waters. Overflights of the mines and the watersheds were an integral part to gathering information for this story and Bruce Gordon headed up to Idaho Falls in strong spring winds to fly the crew over these Superfund sites. The program can be viewed on our website, just go to “Blackfoot River – Phosphate” on our Idaho page.  Watch it: it is very funny and unfortunately, too true for comfort.

The history: The 1872 Mining Law is now 140 years old– a legacy of a bygone era and a totally archaic way of managing mining on our public lands.  We find it hard to believe mining in the USA is still managed by this law that gives very little consideration to the environment.  In SE Idaho, which is an integral part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, phosphate mining has a long history of polluting streams and contaminating landscapes. This important ecological area is known for its incredible diversity in wildlife, and the Blackfoot and Salt Rivers that run through this vast landscape have been severely compromised by poisonous selenium that is discharged as a byproduct of phosphate mining.



Letter from the President


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Dear Friends and Supporters,


As summer arrived and blazed its way upon our already parched landscape in the West, anti-wilderness legislation and forest management issues were bantered around in Congress and the rhetoric heated up.

The debates ranged from protecting beautiful areas like Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico and the Olympic National Forest in Washington, to protecting 19 rivers as wild and scenic on the Olympic Peninsula, to a really bizarre proposal - bill H.R. 2578 that will put the Department of Homeland Security in charge of all public lands currently managed by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture.

At EcoFlight, we always encourage debate as long as it is based on facts and figures and scientific study. Exposure to the issues is something we encourage with our flights and outreach. As you will read in this newsletter, getting information to the public can take many forms, and with our recent flight mission for an episode of The Daily Show, we learned that humor can be a great tool to call out the facts and bring attention to the issues.

One thing is certain, seeing these magnificent landscapes from the air never fails to excite, stimulate and inspire one to learn more, and elicits a deep sense of awe in the world that we live in. Most recently, on our flights over the Rocky Mountain Front highlighting the Scapegoat Wilderness Area and Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, we witnessed firsthand how these experiences can change mindsets and balance the debates surrounding Wilderness.

One of our passengers, a Montana radio talk show host and known skeptic of capital “W” Wilderness, began to understand just how remarkable his local area is. On a broadcast he affirmed that after seeing this spectacular landscape from the air that perhaps these lands were indeed worthy of protection.

Even as this dramatic summer’s heat and wildfires continue to build, there is always some shade and the thunderstorms can always provide some form of relief. The court and BLM’s recent protective rulings on Thompson Divide, the Roan Plateau and the Alton Coal Mine near Bryce Canyon provide a similar kind of relief, a reprieve from the drought of good environmental policy, to the conservation community.



Bruce Gordon.



A Citizen's Proposal - 40 Years Later


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The Rocky Mountain Front contains some of the best wildlife habitat
in the lower 48 states.


In 1964 when Congress introduced the original Wilderness Act, Montana’s Scapegoat region did not make the cut. There were even plans to build roads up into the area. Growing concern for the future of the area’s wildlands led to one of the first citizens’ wilderness proposals. Advocates from Montana developed a proposal and presented it to their Democratic Senators at the time – Metcalf and Mansfield. Upon its approval by the senators, the proposal was then given to House Republican Battin who, after seeing the size of the proposal, thought it was too small and suggested the addition of more acres for wilderness protection!  Through a truly bi-partisan effort, the 239,936 acre area was designated as the Scapegoat Wilderness in 1972.

Unfortunately wilderness has become a more partisan issue these days, complete with political rhetoric from both sides. But one thing that remains for the most part unchanged in Montana is the best wildlife habitat in the lower 48. Montana’s benefits from these wildlands are undeniable. Every year thousands of sportsmen and women make their way to Big Sky Country to hunt, fish and hike, boosting Montana’s tourism economy.

Now, forty years later, another citizen effort has led to the introduction of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, aiming to protect the remaining wildlands surrounding Scapegoat and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Grizzly bear, lynx, wolverine, deer, elk, gray wolf, moose, black bear, mountain lion, mountain goat, and mountain sheep roam these rugged ridge tops, gently sloping alpine meadows, thickly forested river bottoms and open grass parks. These mid and lower-elevation lands are crucial for connecting this prime habitat to the greater landscape. EcoFlight flew reporters, landowners and political candidates to raise public and political awareness on the importance of protecting these wildlands, and to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Scapegoat.


The Dramatic Roan


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Plans to drill on top of the Roan Plateau have been set aside.


Finally a victory for one of our favorite gems in Western Colorado. The dramatic Roan Plateau, rising 3,500 feet above the small town of Rifle and just a 20 minute flight from our home base in Aspen, Colorado, has been granted a reprieve. This biologically diverse and extraordinary landscape has long been a poster child of what is bad about natural gas drilling in the West. Since EcoFlight’s inception we have documented and advocated for the protection of the remaining public lands on the Roan and have flown almost every local county commissioner, city councilman, mayor, senator and even the Colorado governor over this landscape. On June 23rd, the Federal District Court set aside the BLM plan to develop more gas development on the Roan and ordered the agency to address the cumulative effects of drilling on air quality. Ten years of flying and educating for the Roan have produced some semblance of balance in the way the BLM is managing our public lands. The lush rolling Aspen meadows and meandering trout streams that still exist on the top of the Roan will potentially be saved to be enjoyed by the many Americans who use and love our public lands.



Protecting Browns Canyon


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The busiest stretch of the Arkansas, Browns Canyon attracts
90,000 visitor days of use per year.


In March 2012 Senator Mark Udall announced a community-driven process that could ultimately designate Arkansas River Canyon as a national monument and the adjacent Browns Canyon as a wilderness area. Senator Udall has proposed a series of three map versions that include different boundaries and varying acreages, which are available online for public comment. Udall will compile these comments to develop a final plan to protect some of Colorado’s best-loved river rafting spots along the iconic Arkansas River between Salida and Buena Vista. The official designation would literally put the region on the map, drawing more visitors to the area's world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and supporting the local tourism economy.

EcoFlight and our partners, Friends of Browns Canyon and The Wilderness Society created a compelling series of aerial tours over the area. Passengers included reporters, business owners, members of local governments and an open space and trails board member. The intimacy of a 6-seat Cessna is the perfect meeting place for people with different backgrounds and viewpoints. The result: passengers gained a new perspective on the Arkansas River Canyon. “Being able to see this area from above really drove home how unique and special Browns Canyon is to our valley,” said Buena Vista town trustee Phillip Puckett.

The campaign has been working hard to accommodate various recreational interests by adjusting wilderness boundaries around motorized trails and leaving room for off-road recreation. Avid dirt-biker Matt Brown, one of our passengers, expressed his support for the proposal, citing the many opportunities for motorized use just outside the proposal area; a testament to the power of an overflight.

View maps and send your comments on Senator Udall's Browns Canyon proposal.



Spotlight on our Partners


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Holly Baker, a 2004 FLAA student, now works as the Wilderness
Campaign Director for Montana Wilderness Association.


During our recent flights in Montana we reconnected with a former student from our first-ever Flight Across America student program, Holly Baker.  “It was a big turning point for me,” said Holly of her experience as a student in EcoFlight’s 2004 program which flew students over oil and gas development and wildlands in the West.                                 .

Based in Choteau, Holly is putting her experience and skills to use with a career in conservation, as the Montana Wilderness Association’s Wilderness Campaign Director. She helped EcoFlight organize landowners, politicians, and the press for this summer’s overflights of the Scapegoat Wilderness and proposed additions to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex on the Rocky Mountain Front.


Flight Across America Student Intern



And speaking of reconnecting, we are delighted to have Flight Across America (FLAA) student Ashley Basta as an intern with EcoFlight this summer. Following her participation in our student program in 2011, Ashley was chosen to be part of a National Parks and Conservation Association delegation who met with top EPA and Congressional officials in Washington DC. Ashley joins the EcoFlight team this summer to help coordinate our upcoming 2012 FLAA Student Program, which will study conservation concerns in the Upper Colorado River Basin.


Oil Shale Update


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Shell Oil's Mahogany Oil Shale Research Project.


As a result of multiple overflights by EcoFlight and a lawsuit filed last year by a dozen of our conservation partners, the Department of the Interior has revisited Bush administration decisions that opened 2 million acres of public land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to oil shale and tar sands development.

BLM now proposes a scaled-back plan opening 462,000 acres of public lands with thoughtful protections in its "preferred alternative". The proposal would require industry to first conduct research to prove that it can develop oil shale resources without unacceptable impacts to local communities, water, and public lands before commercial scale development can be approved.

While the full impacts of oil shale development are unknown, we do know that commercial development would consume huge quantities of water, destroy thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, cause significant air pollution, and promote boom and bust cycles for our local economies. This new plan (alternative 2b) demonstrates a more common sense approach to the development of an industry that has yet to prove its economic viability.

Urge the Bureau of Land Management to pursue options that protect our public lands from dirty fuel development!  Instead we should focus on more sustainable and cleaner energy sources for our future.