Hurricane damage a good lesson for LightHawk pilot, passengers |

Hurricane damage a good lesson for LightHawk pilot, passengers

Jeremy Heiman

Aspen pilot Bruce Gordon was one of 15 pilots who recently witnessed the heart-stopping damage Hurricane Mitch wrought upon Central America last year.

The pilots, from the environmental group LightHawk, assessed damage caused by Hurricane Mitch and provided educational flights for government ministers and indigenous people in Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Gordon piloted flights every day for two weeks in March.

Gordon said flights were provided for young indigenous people to familiarize them with the biological assets of their country and to emphasize the importance of preserving the forest environment.

The massive damage from Hurricane Mitch, especially in Honduras, underscored the importance of forest conservation, he said. It was clear that mismanagement of the land contributed to the severity of the destruction, from the way the deforested landscapes were ravaged by flooding to erosion and landslides.

“I had heard about Mitch’s destruction, but I was shocked,” he said. “It looked like the country was bombed, the way the hillsides are denuded.”

He said one group of hurricane refugees he saw was wearing “Aspen” imprinted T-shirts, donated by a Rotary Club group.

Though his Spanish skills are limited, Gordon said he quickly became aware that the aerial perspective had a profound effect on his passengers.

“It was eye-opening to them to see the forest was not a limitless commodity,” he said. Some of the passengers, after the flight, questioned government land managers on the wisdom of allowing migrating farming people to start villages directly on the edge of parks and forest preserves.

“Many of these land managers have never seen the land they’re charged with managing,” Gordon said.

A project under way in Belize stems from a vision LightHawk shares with other American conservation groups, Gordon said. A slice of the country will be designated as a biological corridor, encompassing a number of interlocking habitat zones.

Gordon said LightHawk pilots flew a U.S. congressional delegation, along with the U.S. ambassador to Belize, over the proposed Golden Stream, a swath of land running from the Gulf of Honduras to the Maya Mountains on the border with Guatemala.

LightHawk is an international environmental group that provides aerial perspective for policy makers and the press, especially on forest issues. The group is actively involved in international disaster relief and environmental education for school-age children. Lighthawk has had a presence in Aspen for 20 years.

One of the two planes used in the project was provided by Player Crosby, an environmentalist and philanthropist. The other belongs to LightHawk. Continental Airlines, as a sponsor of the program, contributes flight coupons that allow the pilots to get to Central America.

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