Yampa River water conservation focus of student visit

EcoFlight program blends water, energy issues during student flight over Craig Station

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“I feel like all of the other conversations we’ve heard have kind of all been similar and this was a very unique angle coming from the sportsmen community. I maybe had a more negative perception of sportsmen, but after hearing him talk it really surprised me to listen about how much he really cares about the environment. He’s definitely changed the way I look at sportsmen.”

Tyler Hutchinson, 22, student at Colorado Mesa University

On Thursday, five students representing Colorado Mountain College, the University of Colorado and Colorado Mesa University flew over Craig as part of an educational program exploring the relationship between energy development and water conservation.

The program, organized by EcoFlight, an Aspen-based environmental nonprofit, blends airborne- and ground-based education designed to inform college students about current conservation issues from a broad range of perspectives.

EcoFlight’s Flight Across America Student Program is in its 10th year, and Craig marked the final destination of 2012.

“We explore a different theme each year, and this year we’re focusing on conservation issues in the upper basin of the Colorado River,” said Jane Pargiter, EcoFlight director of operations. “These kids are nearing the age of entering the real world and it’s so important, especially during an election year, to not only expose them to some of the issues, but also to inspire them to become actively involved in their communities.”

In addition to flying over Craig Station and learning about oil and natural gas development in Moffat County while in the air, the students participated in a discussion at the Tin Cup Grill in Craig about local environmental issues with Luke Schafer, Western Slope campaign coordinator with the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Schafer covered a lot of ground during his hour-long talk, bouncing from topic to topic and presenting his opinions on everything from water conservation, the Front Range’s thirst for Western Slope water, balanced and sustainable energy development and sage grouse.

Schafer told the students that sage grouse could be an environmental game changer because they are considered an indicator species.

“He certainly brings a new side of the story,” said Calvin Davenport, 24, a student at Colorado Mesa University. “I liked hearing his aspect about the Colorado sage grouse as being an indicator species that can tell us that we may be hurting the environment.”

Although the students were captivated by Schafer’s views on sage grouse, they were stunned to discover he also was an avid hunter.

“It’s easy to demonize people, especially hunters, but I want you all to know that’s me,” Schafer said. “People often forget that the conservation movement, the environmental movement or whatever you want to call it, traces its roots back to a group of hunters who wanted to protect that (Dinosaur National Monument) out there.

“No other group does more for conservation than hunters, but we do get a bad rep because not every hunter is quick to pull out their checkbook and contribute.”

Tyler Hutchinson, 22, also a student at Colorado Mesa University, said Schafer’s attitude emphasizing collaboration and working toward middle ground solutions was a refreshing perspective.

“I feel like all of the other conversations we’ve heard have kind of all been similar, and this was a very unique angle coming from the sportsmen community,” he said. “I maybe had a more negative perception of sportsmen, but after hearing him talk, it really surprised me to listen about how much he really cares about the environment.

“He’s definitely changed the way I look at sportsmen.”

Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or jmoylan@craigdailypress.com.

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