Pilots Fly for Conservation with LightHawk

Tony Rath Photography with aerial support from LightHawk


By Rudy Engholm of LightHawk. LightHawk is an EarthShare member organization that donates flights in small aircraft to conservation groups in the US, Canada, Mexico and Central America. A network of over 200 volunteer pilots generously fly their aircraft at no cost to LightHawk’s conservation partner groups to help protect land, water and wildlife.

Twenty-three years ago, a thoughtless act of environmental destruction changed my life forever.

While living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I often walked in the woods behind my home after work. My favorite spot to unwind was under a broad oak tree that I called my “thinking tree.”

One summer, I returned home from vacation to find the entire woods cleared for a new housing development. My thinking tree had been cut down and all that remained was a huge stump scarred with chain marks where someone had tried to tear it from the earth.

I sat by the stump and wept for the thoughtless way this special tree had been destroyed. Any new homeowner would have paid a premium to own such a tree, but it was cut down because a thoughtless subdivision planner could not bother to relocate a road around this magnificent tree, which had survived 150 summers and winters.

For me, this incident symbolizes the way some of our most treasured natural places and critical ecosystems are being lost. The immediate costs are borne by land, water and wildlife, but humans ultimately pay with adverse health consequences and diminished well-being.

As a pilot, I know that the aerial view provided by LightHawk is often the only way for people to understand complex environmental issues. That is why I serve among LightHawk’s volunteer pilots who, hand-in-hand with LightHawk’s supporters, use flight to protect the most special places in our world.

LightHawk is built around the principle that seeing can lead to caring. Some flights create “aerial epiphanies” for key passengers whose single phone call can protect or destroy nature. Other flights yield amazing photos that get people to care about places, communities, and wildlife beyond their daily routine.

Thank you for flying with us. Together, we are part of some incredible successes like protecting an irreplaceable coral reef off Cabo Pulmo on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. When a massive beachfront development was proposed, aerial images of nearby construction helped build public opposition and the permits were revoked. Thanks to caring people like you, LightHawk flights are making a difference to conservation every day.


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S. Webb

Although I spend my time on the ground, and don't often get a bird's eye view, I am aware of the damage thoughtless destruction causes from mountain top removal to the trees removed for wider streets in my own neighborhood. Everyone wants to take the easiest way out.

Now most of us are thinking about global warming. We all should be planting more native trees of all kinds, more native shrubs, and eliminating turf grasses. Grasses are virtual deserts for birds: add some herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides, and lawn turf is a lethal cocktail, good for nothing except polluting the waterways and fertilizing the Hydrilla and algae.

You, of course, can see all this (red tide) from up there, and I commend you for your ongoing hard work (and fun).
If we don't all work together, and soon, it will all drift away and no one will remember when it all started (before Rachel Carson) or what we lost.

On the Florida (Space) coast in winter we can see Right Whales - and their encounters with freighters and cruise lines. Your group can do this easier than we can from shore.

Thank you very much,
S. Webb

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