EcoFlight is privileged to work on water and wildlands projects
with Native American tribes throughout the Southwest. As a result, EcoFlight has developed relationships with tribal communities and a network of individuals who are committed to improving and protecting ecosystems and watersheds in their tribal homelands. When the global pandemic hit, overflights with passengers were canceled, so EcoFlight tapped into our established networks within the tribal and aviation communities to put the airplane to use in a different way. Native American communities in the Southwest have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus. Many families have to travel long distances to access services like hospitals, fresh food, grocery stores, and even water. The Navajo Nation has surpassed New York and New Jersey for the highest per-capita coronavirus infection rate in the US – another sign of Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on minority communities.
EcoFlight partnered with Catena Foundation who purchased over 250,000 masks, face shields and goggles to distribute to Native American communities in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. Marble Distillery and Woody Creek Distillers also pitched in, donating buckets of hand sanitizer. With the help of Betty Flies Foundation and 10 local Aspen pilots, EcoFlight was able to deliver these much-needed supplies via small airplanes, landing at small airstrips like Gallup, NM, Kayenta, AZ and Chinle, AZ. Click here to watch a short video about the PPE delivery project.
The Yampa River in Colorado is the wildest river in the Upper Colorado River system. The river banks still flood during spring runoff, keeping a vibrant riparian ecosystem healthy, unlike nearly all other rivers in the West that have been dewatered and diverted to the point of submission. That is why EcoFlight and Friends of the Yampa are working so hard to build awareness and support for protecting the Yampa and its healthy riparian ecosystems.
EcoFlight created a virtual tour as part of the Yampa River Awareness Project to document the Yampa River, and to educate and inspire the local public with a better understanding of how a wild river that is healthy and hard-working can support a vibrant and diverse economy, while ensuring the river is accessible for all to enjoy. Join us for a virtual flight and learn more about the story of the Yampa.
California Wilderness Coalition was excited to partner with EcoFlight to create a virtual aerial tour of Dinkey Creek. The tour will mobilize public support, influence and educate decision makers, the Forest Service, media and the general public as the Forest Service finalizes the Sierra National Forest Plan Revision. From its source at Island Lake in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, the Creek flows 31 miles, dropping more than 8,400 feet in elevation through some of the most spectacular and iconic wild lands in the Sierra Nevada. CalWild and other conservation organizations are urging the Forest Service to find all 31 miles of Dinkey Creek eligible for National Wild and Scenic River protection, with its outstanding scenery and wildlife habitat, and recreational, geological, historical, cultural and ecological values.
In the Bear Mountain roadless area, Dinkey Creek curves around the spectacular Dinkey Dome and then proceeds down a glaciated u-shaped granite slickrock canyon over a series of short waterfalls and into deep plunge pools. Rock climbers enjoy the challenge of climbing Dinkey Dome, while expert whitewater kayakers run the creek’s class V waterfalls. The SuperDink kayak run in this segment attracts expert kayakers from all over California, the nation, and the world.
Grape Creek is a jewel of a valley, located just southwest of Cañon City, Colorado, and threatened by mineral exploration, thus a good candidate for EcoFlight’s first virtual tour. As Covid-19 started spreading across the USA, EcoFlight switched gears to flying with go-pros and cameras in order to social distance, and to provide partners and would-be passengers with our powerful aerial perspective in the form of virtual aerial tours.
Earlier this year, Fremont County approved a Zephyr Minerals permit to expand gold mining exploration into the BLM’s Grape Creek Wilderness Study Area and Area of Critical Environmental Concern, a landscape which is proposed for Wilderness in Rep. Diana DeGette’s Protecting America’s Wilderness Act. The permit would allow drill pads to be built for exploration, and water to be piped out of Grape Creek, all within proposed Wilderness.
BLM currently manages the area as a watershed of significant natural character with unique high-desert riparian resources, wilderness values, and habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and peregrine falcon nesting areas. However, the agency is choosing to forego environmental review and public input processes, and prioritize development. EcoFlight and Wild Connections are raising awareness on the local level with a first-of-its-kind virtual aerial tour of this landscape.
As CalWild’s Rivers Director, Steve Evans thinks the best part of his job is getting out on the public lands and rivers he is working to protect – to camp, hike, and enjoy the outdoors with his wife and two dogs. He helped CalWild and its allies develop legislation currently pending in the U.S. Senate to protect more than 589,646 acres of public lands as Wilderness and 684 miles as Wild & Scenic Rivers in Northwest California, the Central Coast region and the San Gabriel Mountains. He has been involved in the development of the Inyo, Sequoia, and Sierra National Forest plans, with the goal of encouraging the Forest Service to recommend more Wilderness and to identify rivers and streams eligible for National Wild & Scenic River protection. Steve loves working with EcoFlight, which provides an invaluable service to conservationists working to protect public lands and to educate from the air our elected officials, the media, and the general public about public lands protection. “I’m an effective public lands advocate because I visit these places on foot and by air, which means I can speak from my personal experience and from the heart about why it is important to protect our wild lands and rivers,” Steve said.
I do not know about you but I have never in my lifetime on this planet heard the word unprecedented heralded so often and so loud. 2020 has indeed been unprecedented, and EcoFlight is responding to these unprecedented times with innovative responses to conservation flying that have been both meaningful and successful.
Whether it is the virus, presidential leadership style, disastrous environmental policies or economic havoc raised by such uncertainties, we have never experienced such chaos and such challenges. Janey, my partner, grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and has spent years fighting racism. She is clear that when you “throw in our devastated health care system and the national crisis of systemic racism brought to light by Black Lives Matter, that EcoFlight will have no tolerance for racism and stands in solidarity with Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities. EcoFlight will renew our commitment to flying and empowering these voices and will work to dismantle racism through environmental action and conservation advocacy.”
EcoFlight has worked for years with many tribes on pressing conservation needs, as currently and historically so many of our wild lands are the lands of indigenous peoples. When the virus appeared and EcoFlight had to put our aerial educational tours with passengers on hold, we took an unprecedented step to deliver over a quarter-million PPE to 5 tribes in 7 remote airstrips, distributing the much-needed supplies by small airplanes directly to the communities.
We have also embarked on another innovative approach to bring the aerial perspective into the conservation fray, and are creating virtual aerial educational tours with our assortment of GoPros, including the 360-degree perspective, with experts beaming the conservation messaging into the cockpit from their home offices.
We must continue to be vigilant during COVID times, whether flying passengers physically or virtually, as the current administration continues its inexorable drive to dismantle so many of our environmental safeguards and healthy traditions.
A childhood axiom comes to mind. When the going gets weird the weird turn pro. Indeed, in this unparalleled weird time we must all turn pro.