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Connecting the Dots

While using their airplanes to explore the connection between Western private lands and preserving important wildlife habitat, volunteer pilots Stan Bialek (Aspen, CO), Jim Grady (Grand Junction, CO), and Richard Hoover (Albuquerque, NM) discovered a long hidden connection between two of the pilots that went to the heart of their passion for aviation.

Fitting the Pieces Together

The aerial view provided a new perspective on habitat connectivity for passengers ranging from Chama Peak Landowner Alliance members and project funders, to staff from state timber management and wildlife agencies. The flights provided, “a unique aerial view of the entire Alliance region [over 200,000 acres] and an opportunity to see that in about 120 nautical miles, the landscape changes from summer habitat to winter range for wildlife,” explained Monique DiGiorgio, CPLA representative. “The impact that private landowners have in this landscape is astounding.” The flights boosted efforts to connect key swaths of wildlife habitat on private lands protected by conservation easements.

Elk photo and map courtesy of CPLA

A Free Range

Alliance member lands cover 200,000 acres in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico. With elevation ranging from 7,000 to over 12,000 feet, the landscape provides spectacular seasonal range for wildlife. Reaching out to adjacent landowners such as the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Southern Ute Tribe, and working with CO and NM state and federal wildlife agencies, the Alliance has been able to look at a bigger landscape of protected parcels. These long distance corridors of connected protected lands allow migrating wildlife such as mule deer and elk to move freely between summer and winter ranges. It also grants animals free range of these lands without bumping into housing development or oil and gas exploration. The November flights were the first opportunity many of the Alliance members and cooperators had to see the entire landscape-scale picture of these connected lands in one sitting from the air.

Volunteer pilot Stan Bialek (Aspen, CO) on left in front of his Mooney 201 with passenger Aaron Jones an Alliance member from Rancho del Oso Pardo. photo: Monique DiGiorgio/CPLA

Making the Case from the Air

Prior to the flight, CPLA was anxious to fly over Little Chama Valley, an area not currently protected by conservation easements. Given the snow accumulation, a flight was an ideal way to see this important, and up for sale, wildlife corridor that ties the Alliance regions together.

Thanks to the generosity of volunteer pilots Bialek, Grady and Hoover, who each flew a considerable distance to donate these flights, the Chama PeaksLandowner Alliance was able to secure an assessment from Colorado Parks and Wildlife on the value of the corridor to elk. They also provided a conservation buyer from Bozeman, MT with a unique view of how the Valley connects the dots between other conservation holdings.

Volunteer Pilot Jim Grady. photo: Dave Showalter/iLCP

It’s a Small (Aviation) World

Chatting at the gas pumps following the flight, Jim Grady and Richard Hoover discovered an interesting connection of their own buried deep in the past. A couple days after the mission, Jim received an email from Richard that said, “I know this is a long shot, but is your dad Bob Grady?” In a bizarre twist of fate, Jim and Richard’s parents were good friends from their days working at an oil company in Arkansas. “As a child,” Jim says, “I remember my parents talking with great affection about Mobile and Dru Hoover, Richard’s parents.” When Jim mentioned his first exposure to aviation was in the company’s Twin Beech 18 piloted by a “huge bear of a man named Sam”, Richard piped up, “Oh, that’s why I’m in aviation. I grew up flying right seat in that plane 60 years ago."