Lighthawk founder launches new enviro-activism group | AspenTimes.com

Lighthawk founder launches new enviro-activism group

Photo courtesy of EcoFlight.An oil drill near Dead Horse Point in Utah's treasured canyon country.

For those environmentalists who fear it will take a wing and a prayer to win battles against President Bush’s administration, Aspenite Bruce Gordon is happy to provide the wing.

Seventeen years after he founded Lighthawk, Gordon is trying to recapture the zest and energy of the original organization with a new group called EcoFlight.

Gordon has parted ways with Lighthawk because he feels it is “heading away from proactive conservation” and evolving into more of a flight provider without the activism.

His original vision for Lighthawk was to try to influence decision makers on key environmental issues – around Aspen, regionally and even nationally.

Lighthawk took journalists, elected officials and other people of influence on flights over terrain where some environmental issue was at stake. The hope was to provide a better understanding when seeing debated terrain from the air.

Gordon said the idea was hatched from talks he had “while hanging around with John Denver.”

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As Lighthawk has grown, Gordon has grown apart from it. He said he wasn’t effective at administration, so his role diminished as the organization evolved. He stressed that he had nothing bad to say about Lighthawk, but wanted to be part of an organization that is more “proactive.”

EcoFlight took wing in January and is in the process of receiving its nonprofit, tax-exempt status.

The organization’s first big push came during the Olympics. Gordon took numerous reporters from around the world on flights to show how exploration for gas and oil was affecting Utah’s wild canyon lands.

“The Bush energy policy is one of the issues I’m going to concentrate on,” Gordon said.

He is particularly troubled by exploration occurring near two canyon-land gems in the Moab area. Exploration is occurring just a couple of miles north of Arches National Park in an area known as Dome Plateau.

Drilling is taking place in the vicinity of Long’s Canyon, just a hop and skip away from Dead Horse Point, the scenic state park adjacent to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.

EcoFlight teamed with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance to build awareness about the projects. SUWA was one of several conservation groups that appealed a U.S. Bureau of Land Management decision to allow oil exploration in the Yellowjacket district of Dome Plateau.

The groups contended that the BLM violated federal environmental laws through its decision. A federal administrative appeals officer ruled Feb. 23 that the exploration must stop for further review.

The New York Times reported on Feb. 8 that 52,000-pound trucks with seismic measuring instruments are rolling across the desert seeking oil. SUWA claimed in a press release that the trucks are causing damage to vegetation and terrain that could last up to 300 years.

Gordon said the Dome Plateau and Long’s Canyon projects are perfect examples of the fallout from the Bush energy policy. While national attention is focused on the battle over exploration in Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge, numerous other places in Utah and throughout the West are also being affected, he said.

Gordon said he envisions EcoFlight teaming frequently with SUWA and the Wilderness Society, two groups that he highly respects.

He also intends to push educational efforts by working with the Aspen schools on projects that EcoFlight is pursuing.

“Changes can and do take place,” said the 30-year Aspen resident.