Shimmering in the summer sunlight, the South Fork Salmon River scribes a silver arc a thousand feet below us. The towering mountains of the Needles Recommended Wilderness area form a jagged skyline out the left windows. The rapids of the East Fork Salmon River are visible out our right windows. Lick Creek Road and the Secesh River valley are just coming into view. 

This is no ordinary field trip. Instead of bouncing along washboard backroads as usual, we are buzzing far above the South Fork Salmon River in a small, single-engine Cessna 210. ICL and our conservation partners are on an overflight of the South Fork Salmon River watershed with EcoFlight, one of the best conservation groups we have had the good fortune to work with.

ICL Public Lands Director, John Robison and EcoFlight Founder and Captain, Bruce Gordon before takeoff.

EcoFlight is a non-profit organization based out of Aspen, Colorado that offers overflights to decision-makers and community organizations so they can get a landscape level perspective of the issues they are working on. 

Executive Director Jane Pargiter describes EcoFlight’s call to action as “working with all sides of an issue, with small planes providing a platform for conversation to happen in order to find solutions.”

Every year, EcoFlight comes to Idaho to bring folks together and provide an aerial perspective of complex natural resource issues. ICL staff have flown with County Commissioners, mining experts, foresters, loggers, and private property owners to get a shared understanding of how all the various jigsaw pieces of the landscape fit together ecologically, socially, and economically. The days when EcoFlight comes to town are some of my favorite days of the year. 

ICL Public Lands Director, John Robison on a flight with EcoFlight Founder and Captain, Bruce Gordon, and others.

Issues that EcoFlight has covered in Idaho include the Stibnite Gold Project and other mining projects, forest restoration work, the Lava Ridge Wind Project, Snake River dams, and Payette Endowment Lands, among others. EcoFlight has an amazing searchable database of photos from previous flights. 

Upper Grimes Creek in the headwaters of the Boise River. The Boise River provides 30% of Boise’s drinking water supply. A Canadian mining company hopes to conduct road construction and exploration drilling in this area in preparation for what they hope will become one of the world’s largest open-pit copper and molybdenum mines. ICL and our partners oppose the project because of its risks to the Boise River. Photo April 2023 by John Robison, courtesy of EcoFlight.

EcoFlight pilot Bruce Gordon is one of the original founders of conservation aviation and regularly posts a “Captain’s Blog” of their recent overflights investigating complex natural resource management issues. Bruce describes EcoFlight’s unique role as creating a shared experience: “The aerial perspective and our ability to connect people is used to help build bridges between current conflicting viewpoints, and as a tool to help Americans find common ground, bringing Tribes, partisan alliances, and faith-based groups together.”

EcoFlight is coming back to Idaho this fall and we are excited for the next round of aerial adventures and insights with them.