Friends of the Bitterroot

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Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains
Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains

December 2007, Issue 12

LightHawk's monthly update, WayPoint, was created to share some of the good news we on staff learn about daily. These success stories illustrate the critical role we play in conservation efforts throughout North and Central America through the unique perspective of flight. We hope you enjoy WayPoint and will share with others our success stories from above.

“Big Sky View” Informs Decisions in the Bitterroot Valley

Have you ever been in a discussion with a group of people, when suddenly, one person’s comments completely changed the terms of the debate? Perhaps they knew something that no one else was privy to, or perhaps they “connected the dots” in an entirely new way, which helped everyone to see a solution. In Ravalli County, MT. LightHawk flights produced this effect for passengers flying with our conservation partner Friends of the Bitterroot.

Ravalli County, like many other booming areas in the Mountain West, is dealing with a huge influx of new residents. The Bitterroot River Valley’s beautiful open spaces, pristine rivers and mountain streams, and outdoor recreation opportunities are magnets for those searching for a retirement property or second home. Montana has been called “the last, best place” for good reason, and Ravalli is the fastest-growing county in the state. While the economic growth is welcome, county and town officials are scrambling to accommodate these new citizens, while still maintaining the character of the Valley.

One area of particular concern to residents and officials alike is the proliferation of new homes directly on the banks of the Bitterroot River and its tributaries. Homes without any type of “setback” from the river create many problems:

• the use of artificial river banks (“riprap”) sends the force of the river current further downstream, increasing the likelihood that the river will cause destruction elsewhere;

• homes built on the banks during dry fall weather are often flooded when the spring thaw comes;

• chemicals used on lawns are likely to drain directly into the river; and

• river access for fishing and other recreation is often limited.

Friends of the Bitterroot, a 20-year old organization striving to protect the Bitterroot River Valley, teamed up with LightHawk to encourage the adoption of streamside setback regulations for the county. Volunteer pilot Steven Garman brought the LightHawk C185 to Hamilton, MT forthree days of flights, in order to educate city and county planners, city council members, and developers about the need for river protection via setback regulations. The flights were a huge success by any measure – getting 38 people aloft gave tremendous momentum to the push for sensible regulations.

VP Steven Garman (far right) with his passengers from the Planning Board, Land Use, and Streamside Setback Committees. Larry Campbell/Friends of the Bitterroot.

New construction on the banks of the Bitterroot River, Montana. Will Moss/LightHawk.

Those who flew reported that the volume of new construction along the riverbanks (and elsewhere) was shocking and served as a “wake-up call” to get regulations in place. LightHawk is now planning flights directly with the Streamside Setback Committee to gather needed data so that setback regulations can be based on the reality of the situation on the ground. We will continue to provide the view from above to inform better decision-making in Ravalli County. Our partners in the Bitterroot Valley know they can rely on LightHawk to translate maps and design plans into a real-time, three-dimensional view of what’s happening on the ground.

In the words of local organizer Larry Campbell, “You wouldn’t believe it – these LightHawk flights have dramatically changed the terms of the debate here! We’ve worked to get some sensible planning in place for years, and now, finally, people are listening.”

Quote From The Flight

“… the city and the county do not have protective planning in place in order to secure the safety of our natural environment. When development is viewed by the observance of maps and design plans, the impact is warped and controlled in a manner that gives the impression that the development is orderly, proper, and even aesthetically pleasing. It becomes an abstract concept which is not tangible. But when viewed from the sky – the reality of the scope and the impact on the environment becomes an undeniable reality.

The encroachment of development on the outlying fringes of the city boundaries gave an understanding of the immensity of the potential impact from future annexation applications. The information which I received due to the generosity of this organization and these pilots will help me to advance my work to promote protective planning (both at the city & county level… by giving me … the type of data I need to be credible with my presentations and arguments.” -- DeAnne Harbaugh, President, Hamilton City Council

About LightHawk

Founded in 1979, LightHawk is a nonprofit, volunteer pilot-based organization that flies environmental missions in collaboration with with a large network of pilots and hundreds of partner organizations throughout Central and North America. LightHawk flights provide a powerful and effective platform for research, groundtruthing, environmental awareness and education.

Contact Information

International Headquarters


PO Box 653

Lander, WY 82520

Tel.: (307) 332-3242

Fax: (888) 297-0156


Big Sky View
home on the banks