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6 Ways to Foster Dialogue with Flight

Volunteer pilot aircraft ready for a mission with SkyTruth. image: David Manthos/SkyTruth/LightHawk

For more than 35 years, LightHawk has helped accelerate conservation success for its partners. Here are six ways LightHawk flights have enabled groups to foster dialogue and build consensus to support their conservation strategies.

LightHawk flights gave divergent parties a powerful shared flight experience and created common ground. Water rights in the Klamath River Basin, which straddles the border between California and Oregon, were so hotly contested that the various stakeholders were barely speaking. LightHawk partnered with Sustainable Northwest to design flight campaigns that brought ranchers, tribal representatives, farmers, conservation groups and government officials on a tour over the upper Basin. This was an important step that supported ongoing efforts to bring stakeholders to the table to discuss water-sharing arrangements, and finally reach a resolution.

The Canadian government was considering allowing a pipeline for tar sands to cross through the pristine Great Bear Rainforest on the coast of British Columbia. LightHawk partnered with local conservation groups to provide an opportunity for First Nations to see their territories that will be impacted by the proposal from an aerial perspective. These flights gave an understanding of the unique geography of the region which was hard to understand from the ground. One First Nations member remarked after the flight, “When we have photos of the territories that will be impacted, it unites our people to stand together and stop this project; it is a great opener on discussions to impacts to [our] territories.”

It can be hard to envision the impacts our changing climate will have on us. The Wetlands Conservancy partnered with LightHawk to capture aerial images showing what rising seas would mean for coastal communities. During an unusually high tide called a king tide, LightHawk enabled scientists to capture images and data that provide a preview of our new normal in the future. As a result of these flights, The Wetlands Conservancy and their partners are using king tide data and images to spur a conversation about how to mitigate and prepare for climate change on the coast of Oregon.

Big changes had come to the lower reaches of Maine’s Penobscot River, but news hadn’t spread far beyond the Atlantic salmon, American shad and other resident sea-run fish. Penobscot River Restoration Trust (PRRT) partnered with LightHawk for a flight to showcase the river’s rebirth. “LightHawk flights make it possible for us to document the changes on a stretch of the river that had obstructed fish passage for nearly two centuries and to visually capture the excitement of a "new" free-flowing river,” explains PRRT’s Cheryl Daigle after she flew over the river that cuts Maine in half. The river landscape had changed significantly, and documenting of these changes from the air proved critical to fostering dialogue about the benefits restoring these fisheries will have on natural and human communities in the watershed. Images obtained through LightHawk flights have been instrumental in building community support and raising the funds necessary to reach milestones.

Back in the 1940s, Bombardier cadets were sworn to secrecy about their training over bull’s-eye aerial targets in the mountains near Las Cruces, New Mexico. More than seventy years later, the opposite was true as local conservation groups needed to raise awareness about the unique landscape and build consensus for preservation efforts. New Mexico Wildness Alliance (NMWA) partnered with LightHawk to fly over the targets with a WWII veteran pilot and several media representatives to spread the word about the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. "From a campaign and education standpoint, the flights were a home run for us," said Jeff Steinborn of NMWA. "Not only were we able to help educate our community regarding the presence of the targets, but also make a more effective case for preservation of them with our congressional leaders.  The addition of flying a WW II vet over the targets who had trained on them seventy years ago, proved to also be an invaluable resource for gaining incredible coverage of the trip as well as a new messenger for preservation."

After being awarded collective title to their land, native communities in Panama faced a daunting task: how to manage the resource to balance the needs of humans and nature, all the while addressing challenges. The Rainforest Foundation and local groups planned to carry out participatory mapping exercises in the Embera and Wounaan communities, but first they needed to understand the vast and often rugged terrain. Partnering with LightHawk, they flew with indigenous leaders over their new territories taking geo-referenced photo and video. This enabled them to compose maps to be used for land management planning. These flights helped the Rainforest Foundation meet their objective to use imagery to facilitate participatory management and planning activities within the collective landowners with the goal of protecting natural resources and fomenting sound community management structures.