In early January, press releases were shotgun-blasted to media across the country by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), which in recent years has become known as much for environmental activism as conservation. The headline trumpeted: “Hunters and anglers back clean wind energy.”
As a hunter and angler – and an outdoor journalist in my spare time – I have a problem with the NWF making a blanket statement on behalf of those of us who love wild nature but have a different perspective. When it comes to giant turbine blades whirling on land where pheasant hunters once roamed or jutting wind towers marring the coastal horizon of waters frequented by sport fishermen, I and many of my fellow hunters and anglers take exception.
If I lived in the American west, I’d also question the impact of acres of solar panels on the public land habitat of antelope, deer and game birds, not to mention the death toll caused by wind farms to bats, migratory songbirds, eagles and other raptors. Not to be prejudiced toward only renewable energy in my outdoor backyard, I would object to a gasoline pipeline running through my family’s land down, where we’ve restored and managed bobwhite quail, whitetail deer and wild turkey habitat for more than 25 years.
The NWF does not speak for me -- or those with whom I hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors. The press release was timed to embroil the hunting and angling community in the controversy over renewal of a 2.2-cents per kilowatt-hour wind energy tax credit. It was political propaganda, plain and simple. Just like back in 2009 when a group of elite conservation organizations, including the NWF, held a “virtual town hall teleconference” in support of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill. They were espousing environmental activism, not the interests of hunting and fishing sportsmen across the U.S.
Despite polls purporting to show support of renewable energy or concern about global warming in the hunting and fishing community, I know that millions of us take the opposite view. Wind towers and solar farms sprawling across the countryside definitely change nature, and we are not convinced about manmade climate change.
Call us folks who love our guns and Bibles, as farmers and rural residents we live in and close to the outdoors. It is in our front yard and all around us. We tend to be protective toward it, stewards who don’t go home to the big cities when the weekends or hunting seasons are over.
My wife and I were sightseeing in our corner of rural Appalachia last fall, enjoying the beauty of autumn leaves, when a sight on the horizon caused me to pull over and kill the engine. There on a ridgeline, gleaming bright white in the afternoon sunlight, was a wind turbine. Surrounded by woods on all sides, it looked out of place, not right in an area where I have deer hunted and called wild turkey gobblers.
Because the blades were not spinning, I didn’t hear the “whoosh-whoosh” about which many wind critics complain. But the effect of this manmade energy artifact on me was disturbing.
Just as it is for a group of outdoorsmen and lodge owners near Grand Lake Stream, Maine, where First Wind seeks to build 27 wind turbines. They’ve banded together to oppose the project.
The wind turbines would have a negative effect on outdoor tourism and “overshadow the whole lake system,” said a spokesman for a watershed protection group, part of a coalition that aired its complaints to Gov. Paul LePage recently.
This was not an example of isolated opposition. Contrary to the NWF’s confident declaration of renewable energy support among outdoorsmen, NIMBY-ism (Not in My Backyard) is alive and well in the hunting and fishing community. What might seem to be simply the wide-open and uninhabited (by man) space of forests, plains, deserts, seashores and bays to non-outdoors people is something entirely different to us.
By not qualifying its assertion that hunters and anglers support renewable energy, the NWF did a disservice to those who probably outnumber the so-called “majority.” Hunters and fishermen believe energy production should not pollute or mar the outdoors, but we don’t necessarily agree with radical environmentalists or their goals.
■ Steve Oden is an award-winning columnist and former newspaper editor in Tennessee and Alabama.