LightHawk Volunteer Pilot Tony Carson Flies for 2014 King Tide Project

This year the December King Tide (highest tides of the year) followed several days of big storms. On December 22, TWC GIS Analyst John Bauer, Photographer Ben Friedle and LightHawk volunteer pilot Tony Carson found a break in the storm to fly above the Tillamook, Siletz, Sand Lake and Salmon River estuaries to get an aerial look at how each of the estuaries might respond to rising sea levels.  This is the second year that TWC has partnered with LightHawk to take high-resolution aerial photos to capture the flooded areas at their maximum height. LightHawk is an international non-profit that partners with conservation groups to protect land and water for people and nature. “LightHawk is a catalyst for conservation; we strive to accelerate the work that our partners are doing by using the powerful perspective of flight. Our highly skilled pilots enable scientists, photographers and videographers to see and understand from the 1,000 foot perspective how connected we are to our land and water.” says Christine Steele, LightHawk Pacific Region Manager

This year we sat down with our pilot Tony Carson to find out what motivated him to fly a wetland enthusiast around in his plane on one of the shortest, wettest days of the year!

When did you begin flying and how did you get interested in LightHawk?

I began flying in 1976, I always wanted to be a pilot and just presumed everyone did, and I only found out later that it was a unique hobby.  At the time I had an aviation related job and was able to use a plane at work.  Over time flying became a hobby which (versus driving) greatly expanded the distance and number of Northwest destinations I could reach on the weekend.


I learned about LightHawk 2-3 years ago, when I met Jane Nicolai, a LightHawk board member, who was flying a mission to SE Oregon. I was really curious what could be taking her to such a remote area.  She told me about LightHawk which motivated me to do some of my own research. I was impressed with LightHawk’s standards, safety and performance requirements for their pilots. As a kayaker, spending time in rivers has given me a new perspective on issues related to water and water systems.  I found that many of the water issues relevant in the 70’s are still important.  Being semi-retired with more time, I realized that volunteering for LightHawk would allow me to combine my interests in water and flying.

This was your first mission with LightHawk, what was the most interesting part of the day?

It felt like going to college for free! The flight planning required to align with John’s itinerary was a good challenge. Peak tide was on a south to north track which required flying with the rising tide and John timing our arrivals over various points of interest to see the impacts of the tide.

It was amazing to be part of the conversations in the plane. Listening in on John and Ben, learning about cause and effect of what we were seeing and later seeing how Ben had captured the day’s events was an education.  I think we are always looking for relevancy in the things we love to do, I love flying and contributing to this trip brought relevancy and reward to the thing I love!

How did this flight impact your thoughts on conservation?

I have seen floods before but this flight changed my understanding of the familiar terrain I’ve flown above for years. It gave me a new perspective of the same view and of the people who live there. Now I see how the brackish water is moving into the landscape affecting the people, plants and wildlife dependent upon this habitat.  Seeing the impacts that changing water tables are having on those rural and urban populations below our airplane was a serious eye-opener. It was interesting to hear the science while watching the tide shift below us.  I have been flying over the coast for years, but with this flight I saw the same landscape with new eyes. This experience has expanded my interest in conservation. I now have a greater appreciation for the science and admiration for the men and women working to really understand the impacts of all the changes and their efforts to inform the rest of us.


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