As engineers and scientists Mines’ graduates have a unique responsibility to make ethical decisions that can directly affect our public lands, including national parks, monuments, forests, and recreation areas.
I had the privilege, as a participant in the 2016 EcoFlight student program, Flight Across America (FLAA), to gain insight into the influence engineers and scientists can have on our public lands and the importance of protecting those lands.
The FLAA program was created by EcoFlight, a nonprofit organization that “educates and advocates for the protection of remaining wild lands and wildlife habitat through the use of small aircraft.” EcoFlight engages students with their mission statement during the week long FLAA program, in which the aerial perspective is coupled with discussions with public lands stakeholders.
My journey on the FLAA lead me over and through five national parks, three national monuments, two national recreation areas, one national conservation area, and countless state parks, national forests, and wilderness areas.
A Navajo medicine man, uranium mine operations manager, park ranger, and other experts and advocates lead discussion of issues relating to tribal lands and their cultural significance, in addition to resource extraction, development, and diversification of our national parks.
The beauty of our public lands was made clear while flying over in single engine planes, and their importance to diverse groups of people was made evident through our discussions.
A highlight of the program was flying over the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers in Grand Canyon National Park. The confluence is not only part of a fragile ecosystem, but also sacred to Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and other native people of the Grand Canyon region.
Despite the environmental and cultural significance of the confluence, the Grand Canyon Escalade project has been proposed for development at the confluence. This project includes development of an elevated walkway and amphitheater at the confluence. These will be accessed by a tramway that could transport up to 10,000 visitors a day. There is also discussion of resort developments above the rim. With approval from national and local governments, developers could severely damage this extraordinary location and undermine the native people.
I witnessed similar examples of development marring our public lands: coal fired power plants in northern New Mexico creating haze and air pollution on tribal lands and Mesa Verde National Park, uranium mining contaminating water near Grand Canyon National Park, and the once wildland in northern and central New Mexico riddled with well pads, pipelines, and access roads.
I do want to take a step back and acknowledge that our lifestyle demands resources and development; however, as engineers and scientists, it is our responsibility to act ethically and stand up for the people, places, and things that lack a voice. We are the ones that understand the processes of our extraction and development and their impact on the environment, land, and people.
We can apply our unique perspective and knowledge as industry professionals to provide ethical perspectives and solutions that minimize our impact on public lands and the environment and improve quality of life.
About the author: Cole Rosenbaum is a MS student studying geological engineering. Cole was a participant in the 2016 EcoFlight Flight Across America program which educated students about our public and wild lands through the use of small aircraft and the aerial perspective.
Above: Two of the single engine Cessna aircrate fyling of Kaibab National Forest (Rosenbaum)