By Shane Cross
Not many anglers can deny climate change anymore – many of us have seen first hand the changes on our rivers and streams in recent years.
And while we can go round on the politics, the outlook, and the answer, the fact is if the models are even a little bit true – the tiniest bit – we are in for some changes and not for the better.
Out West, 60 percent of trout populations are endangered by rising water temperatures resulting from climate change. Models predict that salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest will decline an additional 20-40% from already historically low numbers. Back East the outlook for fish is equally dire. Half of the wild trout in southern Appalachian streams are threatened.
Our production and use of energy (most of which comes from fossil fuels) accounts for more than 80% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. That means it’s time to take a stand. As sportsmen we support oil and gas producers who develop energy responsibly. And we should support renewable energy projects that will help reduce climate change and protect our hunting and fishing resources.
Power Company of Wyoming’s (PCW) proposed Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project (CCSM Project) in Southern Wyoming is one such project. The CCSM wind project is located on the Overland Trail Ranch south of Sinclair – an operational cattle ranch that encompasses a checkerboard of private and BLM parcels roughly between the North Platte River and the Continental Divide. When completed, the project will produce up to 3,000 megawatts of clean energy off of the Overland Trail Ranch, which could lead to a reduction of 7 to 11 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. Due to its location in windy Wyoming, the project is projected to operate at a 40% capacity factor, making it one of the most efficient wind projects in the nation.
Trout Unlimited did have concerns about CCSM – as it does with any energy project that has a nexus to coldwater fisheries habitat. Namely, the project could have significant impacts on the North Platte River and Muddy Creek watershed due to increased sedimentation from disturbances along perennial and ephemeral streams. Moreover, the placement of turbines near the North Platte could impact the viewshed and the angler’s recreational experience along the world class fishery.
That said, PCW and the Overland Trail Ranch have committed to a number of measures that address TU’s concerns. PCW voluntarily will not locate wind turbines within 1 mile of the North Platte River or the Teton Reservoir (another popular angling destination in the area), exceeding Bureau of Land Management requirements by three quarters of a mile. Moreover, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project contains assurances that impacts from roads and stream crossings will be minimized through design modifications and placement of structures. For example, the planning documents require that any road crossing a waterbody that potentially supports fish to be designed to simulate natural stream processes, allowing for natural fish passage.
In addition, the Overland Trail Ranch and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department are working to restore native fish to the Muddy Creek drainage at the Southwest corner of the Ranch, a project that Trout Unlimited also is supporting through a partnership with WGFD. To date, barrier removal projects have restored one mile of stream channel, reconnected the upper six miles of Muddy Creek, and stream treatments have reclaimed more than ten miles of the drainage as native fish habitat. The Overland Trail Ranch will continue to work with project partners toward the goal of reclaiming the entire drainage for native fish.
The CCSM project and its proponents have been fish friendly on the ground. And perhaps even more important, given the threat of climate change, the project looks to be fish friendly in the atmosphere too. In the spirit of cooperation and conservation, we as anglers should keep our eyes out for ways to participate in and support sportsmen-friendly, renewable projects like CCSM in the future.