My Turn: Energy policy shouldn’t override conservation policy

For the Monitor
Published: 1/7/2017 12:15:00 AM

For the second time, the Stoddard conservation commission has opposed the Antrim Wind Energy industrial wind facility on Tuttle Hill.

In 2012, the Site Evaluation Committee denied it on the grounds that it would overwhelm the scenic beauty of the region. At its Dec.19 meeting, it ignored its previous ruling and voted, 5-1, in favor.

On the surface, this may appear as a “green project” that is good for New Hampshire. It is not. Here is why:

For the past 40 years, six conservation groups and two state agencies have combined to identify and protect more than 40,000 acres of contiguously protected lands adjacent to and surrounding Tuttle Hill.

Preserving large, unfragmented forest blocks from further development is central to the mission of each group involved, including the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, N.H. Audubon, Harris Center, the Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Lands, Sweet Water Trust, N.H. Fish and Game, and the N.H. Division of Forest and Lands.

This initiative has involved millions of dollars of private and public funds.

Habitat conservation in this special area is a high priority for both the Massachusetts and New Hampshire wildlife action plans. This region’s protected forests provide permanent north-south corridors that enable wildlife to alter their historic ranges to a changing climate.

We are experiencing a global-wide species extinction crisis that is occurring at an alarming rate.

In New Hampshire, we have developed good tools to lessen this growing problem. The New Hampshire Fish and Game’s Wildlife Action Plan is a public/private effort to identify critical habitat throughout the state that is necessary for wildlife to survive in a state that continues to see 10,000 to 15,000 acres of forest land lost to development each year.

The WAP is a cooperative effort between state agencies, conservation groups and academia. It has cost over $1 million in public and private funds. Its purpose is to minimize conflict in land-use decisions, so that critical wildlife habitat is not lost to development.

The SEC is a prime example of an audience this plan was intended for.

The WAP high ranking of habitat on Tuttle Hill is grounds enough to deny the project.

Master plans are a cornerstone of local land use control with citizen involvement. The Antrim master plan zoned this area as conservation/rural but was ignored by the Antrim selectmen.

With the SEC approval, an ugly statewide precedent has now been set that undermines the integrity and work of local volunteers who develop these important land-use plans. The undeveloped forests in this area are now more vulnerable to future development.

We all want to reduce our dependency on fossil fuel and curb greenhouse gases. To be successful, we must use integrated, interdisciplinary problem-solving skills, which requires hard work and bold thinking.

Lost in the SEC decision is the fact that one of the best natural protections against climate change is keeping large, unfragmented forest blocks intact and healthy.

An important trait of forest health is resiliency – its ability to recover from disturbances such as hurricanes, wild fire, disease and drought.

Resiliency, in turn, depends upon biodiversity, where species at different trophic levels provide redundancy to sustain ecological processes. That means we need to keep a full suite of species that are decomposers, pollinators and predators that keep prey and plants in balance.

New Hampshire apex predators are indicators of ecosystem health and are central to maintaining biodiversity. Predators have a “trophic cascade” impact throughout ecosystems, adding profound benefits when they are present and tremendous ecological damage when they are absent.

The biggest threat to apex predators is habitat loss resulting from forest fragmentation caused by development.

The problem with forest fragmentation lies in its insidious nature: It usually begins as seemingly benign little patches or narrow roads. But over time, these little nonforest patches tend to multiply and expand until the forest is reduced to scattered, disconnected, dysfunctional forest islands.

Forest cover lost to roads, transmission lines, and residential and commercial development degrades wildlife habitat, leads to loss of biodiversity, and increases invasive plants, insects and pathogens, reducing resiliency and thereby threatening the health, function and value of the remaining forest.

Fragmentation has a magnifying impact. For every acre cleared, research indicates that an additional 30 acres are negatively impacted.

Our future energy policy and practices must complement our conservation policy and practices, not undermine and contradict them. If we believe that wind farms should be a viable part of this state’s renewable energy portfolio, then they should be sited on ridges where they pose the least environmental threat, not the greatest.

Green project or not, the AWE farm is located on the wrong site.

Because the Site Evaluation Committee dismissed this, its decision must be reversed.

(Geoffrey T. Jones is a professional forester and chairman of the Stoddard conservation commission.)


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