Conservation

Why this trout angler likes wind farms

By Paul Doscher

I’ll admit it. I was what some call an environmentalist (I prefer conservationist) before I was a TU member. Of course, I had angling in my history, but that was back when my father would wake me up at 5 a.m. on summer mornings so we could go out and catch our summer quota of yellow perch for the Labor Day community picnic in our little summer cottage colony on a modest New Hampshire lake.

But in my college days, my fascination with science led me to become one of the campus organizers of the first Earth Day. That charted my path through many years to come.

About 25 years ago, a friend got me started with fly fishing, and it took no time at all to become almost obsessed. My wife bought me a fishing license, hoping that my new interest would distract me from my long work-days (doing land conservation and running a small farm) and countless evening meetings (for local committees and conservation groups). She was chagrined when all it did was add another thing to the long list of “things to do.”

What trout angling did for me was bring home, directly to my personal life, how what we humans do to our environment changes the habitat for the species that share this world with us. I saw how development in riparian areas quickly degraded water quality. How more and more asphalt raised water temperatures and drove the fish from my local streams. Working with fish biologists on stream surveys and habitat projects illustrated how increasing summer temperatures and droughts could extirpate native brook trout from stream reaches where they once thrived, and culvert removals, wood insertions and protection of cooler headwaters became their only hope of returning.

So, why do I like wind farms? Well, I guess I don’t like ALL of them (some are inappropriately sited). I like them because they not only produce renewable energy with almost no contribution to carbon pollution and climate change, but because of what they represent. Like the solar panels that are appearing on roof-tops and other open spaces, wind farms say that we are serious about addressing climate change and creating a sustainable energy future. They remind not just me, but everyone who sees them that we all use electricity every day, and have a choice in how it’s produced.

I’ve been in coal mines, both surface and underground. When I was a college professor, I took my students on tours of fossil fuel power plants every year. I’ve seen first-hand gas and oil well operations, both well-managed and not so carefully operated. I’ve helped monitor air and water quality and seen the land fills where mining and power plant wastes are disposed. To me, the sight of a wind farm and solar array are refreshing alternatives to the impacts of our fossil fuel history.

Some don’t like the look of wind turbines in their ridges and across the horizon. And certainly there are local impacts from “flicker” and noise when they are sited too close to residential areas. Siting any energy generating facility poses risks and problems, and there is no such thing as a large scale energy facility that has no downside.

Knowing that those wind farms help reduce the need for more coal-mining, oil and gas drilling and the host of impacts each can have on our land and water, makes me look at them with more than just an aesthetic perspective. There’s a big wind farm here in northern New Hampshire along a ridge-line that makes it visible from miles around. I have friends (some anglers too) who decry the visual impact those big white turbines have on what was a forested landscape that was only occasionally marred by an inappropriate clear-cut. I look at them and see the beginnings of a future in which our energy choices are more local, more renewable and better for the fish that swim in our forested watersheds’ streams.

Paul Doscher is a former professor of environmental science and retired recently from the Society for the Protection of NH Forests, where he ran the land protection programs. He is currently the secretary of the TU National Leadership Council and has served chair of his state TU council, and as a grassroots trustee.