Overflight provides oversight | PostIndependent.com

Overflight provides oversight

Post Independent Photo/Kara K. Pearson Sloan Shoemaker, left, and Joe Burlaigh talk about the future of the wilderness areas in White River National Park, and trying to propose them as BLM Wilderness to keep oil drilling in those areas at bay.

Debra and Joe Burleigh found time for a little passion on the 16th anniversary of their marriage Thursday – and took their relationship to new heights.The Carbondale couple joined about 15 other local residents and media representatives in flying over the Thompson Creek roadless area, which is targeted for natural gas drilling.The flight may not have had the romance of a candlelight dinner, but the Burleighs share a passion for trying to protect the area from gas development.”I don’t think they should drill at Thompson Creek at all,” Joe Burleigh said after taking his first small plane flight Thursday, one of several plane rides that day organized by EcoFlight and the Aspen Wilderness Workshop.He and his wife have lived in the area about as long as they’ve been married and are concerned about the pace of change in the area – including the pace of energy development.

Thompson creek: see page A2Thompson creek: from page A1″It’s happening too fast, too close to home,” Deb Burleigh said.While that fact disturbs the Burleighs, it also unexpectedly afforded them a plane ride right over their house Thursday.”We thought we were going to fly over the Roan Plateau but this was even better,” Joe Burleigh said.Yet they’d rather not see drilling threaten areas they have come to love, such as those in the Thompson Creek area west of Carbondale, where they have skied and biked over the years. The Roan Plateau and other parts of western Garfield County have been at the center of a debate over gas drilling for years, but only this year did leases around Thompson Creek attract widespread attention.

The Burleighs were among about 100 people who last week attended an informational meeting environmental groups put on in Carbondale regarding the leases. Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, said organizers set up the flights Thursday in an effort to give concerned citizens a bird’s-eye view of the landscape at issue. They charged residents $25 per person for the flight.EcoFlight, based in Aspen, uses airplanes to promote environmental awareness through activities such as Thursday’s flights.Shoemaker and EcoFlight used the flights to help make the argument that the Thompson Creek area is part of an important, 125,000-acre tract of roadless forest that should be protected as wildlife habitat.Shoemaker said the area stretches all the way to the Grand Mesa, and is one of the biggest roadless areas in the state. It contains one of the largest aspen forests in the world and the largest stand of old-growth spruce trees in the White River National Forest, he said.As EcoFlight president and pilot Bruce Gordon flew a plane carrying five other passengers, heading south above Jerome Park southwest of Carbondale on a cloudless August morning, he pointed to some of this country along the high mountain ridges to the west. The only visible travel routes were deer trails.”You’re starting to see some of the roadless areas,” he said. “When I’m flying this country, you don’t see much of that.”An even bigger challenge is protecting valley wildlife corridors that connect roadless habitat, Gordon said.

“But we’ve got to protect these big parts before we can do any of that,” he said.Shoemaker said lynx are beginning to move into Carbondale-area roadless habitat, which already is richly populated with elk, bear and other signature Colorado species.The lynx helps booster their arguments, Shoemaker said. The animal is endangered in Colorado but has spread across much of western Colorado since being reintroduced to the state by the Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1999. The Thompson Creek roadless area is prime lynx habitat worth preserving, Shoemaker said.Gordon said he isn’t opposed to energy development altogether. He noted that he’s a consumer of fuel himself. “I fly airplanes,” he said.”We need to take a balanced approach. Our government right now is out of balance.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com

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