Wildness from the air
October 30, 2009
I have noted with interest the letters to the editor and the debate surrounding the Hidden Gems Wilderness Proposal.
I would like to add a unique perspective to the discussion. I have been flying over our mountains and the West for more than 20 years doing aerial conservation work and watching the profound changes on our landscape, including the dulling of Utah’s azure blue skies by power-plant emissions; the industrialization of spectacular landscapes by oil and gas drilling; the clear-cutting of our forests; and off-road vehicle tracks in the middle of fragile deserts and mountain wild lands.
When I fly over the Rocky Mountains I can almost tell which state I am in, not by looking at my GPS but by looking at the landscapes. In Montana there is hardly a forested hill or mountain that is not traversed by a network of dusty dry roads as a result of the clear-cutting of forests. In Wyoming a spiderweb of roads crisscross the region connecting oil pads, gas wells and multimillion-dollar rigs.
The difference in Colorado used to be one of large swaths of healthy forests, roadless areas and clear bright skies. That is no longer the case as just across the border of Pitkin County the landscape takes on all the industrialization of Wyoming as you approach the Roan Plateau and Piceance Basin. Throw in the activity in the Paonia and Hotchkiss area and the plans for developing the Divide Creek region and you have, in my opinion, a recipe for disaster for wildness and wildlife and the natural heritage of Colorado. You only need to look at our own Thompson Creek that has leases pending in the heart of this pristine area to realize that our last remaining intact lands are at risk.
In Montana, Wyoming and Utah, Wilderness bills have been nonexistent for most of these 20 years. Without wilderness protection for special places there is no ability to stop the juggernaut of industrial incursions. Most recently other states have come to the same realization and wilderness bills are being passed. So it is my hope that we can get off our individual ideological positions and look at the bigger picture and put in some kind of protection to be able to counter industry’s relentless march across the West.
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This isn’t a time for half-measures … our best bet is Wilderness.
pilot and concerned citizen, Aspen