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Flight Nets NPR Airtime

Ian Dowdy of the Sonoran Institute sharing an aerial view of public land in western Maricopa County that's valuable habit and maintains a buffer zone for the Barry M. Goldwater Range. image: Will Stone/KJZZ with aerial support from LightHawk

Turns out, it’s a good thing for nature to have the military close by. That’s what LightHawk partner Sonoran Institute discovered after examining the places where military facilities were tucked against public land. [REPORT]

Sonoran Institute (SI) partnered with LightHawk for a flight campaign to put this story in front of a national audience. The project is designed to inform decision makers about how important Arizona’s military lands are to strengthening nearby public lands with critical habitat for rare species.

“Reporters want to have a unique perspective to their story, explains Ian Dowdy, Program Director for Sonoran Institute. “Sitting in an office rarely brings the cache that they need for a piece worthy of national attention. A flight in a plane gives them the unique look they need.”

Volunteer Pilot Rick Koril, here with his Cessna 182, has been busy since joining LightHawk in February 2015. He was recognized with the Rookie of the Year Award at the 2015 Fly-In pilot celebration. image: LightHawk

Lifting off shortly after sunrise from Falcon Field (KFFZ), volunteer pilot Rick Koril gave a local radio reporter an irreplaceable look at the lands around the Barry Goldwater Range. This vast training area stretches for 1.7 million acres, but only 5% is actively used by the military.

“From the air,” says Dowdy, “it is easy for me to say, ‘look at the bombing range over there. See this area of unprotected land and how the wildlife need to get back and forth?’ From the ground that statement is very abstract.”

Alongside bombing targets, great expanses of relatively undisturbed Sonoran Desert thrive in southwestern Arizona between Yuma and Tucson. Koril maneuvered his red, white and gold Cessna 182 over the Sonoran Desert National Monument and other buffer areas around the range. This public land encircling the military range holds the potential to shore up important desert habitat and migratory corridors for rare species if designated as federal conservation areas.

The Vulture Mountains 70 miles northwest of Phoenix, Arizona is photographed during a LightHawk donated flight in August 2015. Crisscrossed by wildlife corridors and a destination for outdoor recreation, this area would be impacted by the proposed Interstate 11 project.  image: Seth Cothrun/Sonoran Institute with aerial support from LightHawk

Sonoran Institute is pursuing an ambitious interconnected suite of issues: planning for the new I-11 corridor, renewable energy development and transmission, the White Tanks mountains, Sonoran Desert Heritage Act, and Military Base Encroachment. These are difficult to conceptualize and even harder to understand the scale at ground level.

LightHawk flights have fostered important dialogue between key decision makers and stakeholders in the area around these issues. Flights are critical in moving conversations forward as they allow SI to provide a comprehensive, aerial overview of the challenges the West Valley is facing as more pressure is placed on open space, wildlife corridors, and rural communities by growth in the region.

Shortly after the story aired on the local NPR affiliate, KJZZ, Dowdy sent this message, “huge thanks to LightHawk and to Volunteer Pilot Rick Koril for your support on this story. It aired nationally today on Morning Edition! Rick, we can still hear you shout “clear!”

[LISTEN] Morning Edition - Endangered Wildlife Find A Safe Home On The Range, The Bombing Range