Destination: Downstream

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LightHawk volunteer pilots provide the powerful perspective of flight to help conservation experts make better decisions.

June 2015-

This month we’re diverting from our regular destination feature. Instead of focusing on one small area of our marvelous planet, we’d like to draw attention to the wild locations found in between the airports, bed-and-breakfast inns and hundred-dollar-hamburger spots. Dan Pimentel has put the spotlight on some pilots who volunteer to do a different kind of daytripping in this month’s story, which we’ve titled, “Destination: Downstream.” We hope you enjoy the tour. —Ed.

While there is disagreement about the existence of a changing climate, there is one particular part of that debate to which all parties, regardless of politics, can agree: we all live on this one planet called Earth. And that’s not about to change in our lifetimes.

Every day, people discuss what we should be doing to protect our planet, and whether it needs protecting at all. But if you’re a volunteer pilot for LightHawk—a nonprofit organization that began in 1979 with one man and a borrowed plane—your mission isn’t to support a particular side of the argument. Your mission is to provide support for those working to solve the complex environmental issues that ultimately affect every person, plant and living thing.

Conservation support
LightHawk’s 212 volunteer pilots fly to protect land, water and wildlife in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America. According to Bev Gabe, LightHawk’s communications manager, the organization’s role is to “help accelerate successful conservation outcomes for our partners through the powerful perspective of flight.”
“By making flights available to those working to protect our natural world,” Gabe continued, “we enable our partners in conservation to quickly and efficiently understand environmental issues and determine the factors needed to promote effective solutions.”

The kind of conservation support that LightHawk pilots perform can be broken down into three areas, said Greg Bedinger, Pilot Outreach Manager for LightHawk. A third-generation ATP pilot and flight instructor based at Ryan Field (KRYN) in Tucson, Bedinger defines these three areas as survey and monitoring flights; flights of discovery; and media flights.

“We provide access to areas that are remote or difficult to reach, or too large to be covered efficiently by road or foot,” Bedinger said. “These flights are used to gather data for scientific or conservation management purposes.
“We also fly donors, scientists, decision makers [and] community leaders to give them the opportunity to be inspired by the aerial perspective to lead positive change for natural resource awareness and protection.
“And for the photographers, videographers, writers and journalists that we take up, these flights offer the opportunity to capture the story of an environmental issue and disseminate it to a broad audience.”

The ideal LightHawk pilot, says Bedinger, is one who “has witnessed incredible landscapes from the air and been moved to share in the responsibility we as humans have to ensure these landscapes are treated with the respect they deserve—whether that be through protection and preservation or careful and thoughtful resource management.”

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