A monthly column in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tuttle Hill and the Winds of Change

Should we pit unbroken forests against renewable energy?

Tuttle Hill ridge and Calhoun.
UPDATE: The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee has ruled against Antrim Wind Energy's proposal.

If you stood today on sections of Antrim’s Tuttle Hill ridge, you’d hear the wind blowing through the spruce and maples. And as you poke through the trees, you might step over moose and ruffed grouse tracks to get the bobcat’s view of distant hills and ponds.

That could all change.

For four years now, we’ve followed the news of a proposed wind energy facility on the ridge between Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain in Antrim. And for the past two years, the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) has been reviewing Antrim Wind Energy’s proposal, receiving volumes of testimony from people for and against the plan.

When the SEC discusses the project next month, it could make a decision up or down, or opt for more study about the possible impacts of a wind farm on the Tuttle Hill ridgeline.

While many folks have had made up their minds on this plan, I’ve had mixed thoughts, seeing both pros and cons. Well, after talking to a lot of folks, touring a fairly new wind farm in Lempster, seeing the Tuttle Hill ridge myself, studying maps, and reviewing the SEC’s lengthy record, I’ve learned a bunch of things and reached a few conclusions.

I learned that Antrim Wind Energy (a subsidiary of Eolian Renewable Energy) proposes 10 wind energy turbines nearly 500 feet from ground to top-of-blade running on the Tuttle-Willard ridge in the western and wild part of Antrim. If built, these would be the highest free-standing structures in New Hampshire. The 30-megawatt facility, according to the company, would generate enough electricity to power 13,500 homes.

To construct and maintain the turbines, Antrim Wind Energy would build a 4-mile road, starting from Route 9 and running south, climbing Tuttle Hill and following the ridgeline all the way to Willard Mountain. All of this would cross 6 tracts, ranging in size from 110 to 943 acres. And the whole wind facility, in theory, would be decommissioned in 50 years.

The Sense that Nothing Ever Changes

My quest to understand Antrim Wind Energy’s plan reminded me of my days decades ago, protesting a whacked plan led by Public Service Company of New Hampshire to build a nuclear power plant on the saltmarsh at Seabrook. We knew then that our insatiable appetite for energy shouldn’t be a tradeoff for healthy estuaries, risks of nuclear accidents and (still) unanswered questions about long-toxic waste. We favored renewable energy, holding hands and singing songs about the clean power of the sun and wind.

Fast-forward 40 years and we better understand humanity’s legacy of burning fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution. Our little world is warming. Glaciers are melting. Seas are rising. And our generation owes solutions for the next. Wind and solar energy are part of that solution. How much and where remain to be seen, but definitely a part.

And in those decades since Seabrook, we’ve honed our land ethic. We’ve built our knowledge of how wildlife and people depend on healthy lands. We’ve strengthened land trusts and established new ones, conserving precious lands and working with landowners generous and far-sighted enough to protect their tracts with conservation easements. Now, land trusts have protected more than 348,000 acres throughout New Hampshire, mostly through conservation easements. While some of those protected places are hilltops, the Tuttle-Willard ridge is not among them.

Now that wind energy developers are seriously looking at New England’s ridges and hilltops, the debate gets real and it’s on a collision course with conservation. We all want clean energy, independence from fossil fuel and a safe and stable planet to give our children. We all want pristine environments, the wildness that inspires our souls, the calming views, the sense that nothing ever changes.

Strong Opinions and Counter-Sides

One of Iberdrola's 12 turbines
on Lempster Mountain.
But things do change. And things may change on the Tuttle-Willard ridge.

The SEC has done a good job of capturing the pro and con sentiments of Antrim Wind Energy’s proposal. The public record is thick; opinions are strong and plenty. There are expert witnesses, highly qualified locals, well-respected and good, decent folks, all with well-thought-out opinions.

There’s not enough space in this newspaper for all the facts and counter-sides of every aspect of the plan. Antrim Wind Energy and its backers differ sharply with opponents on just about all of the issues: aesthetics, noise, shadow flicker, property values, light pollution, wildlife impacts and how it fits with the region’s orderly development. Even the company’s own track record is an issue.

Those are all genuine concerns. But as one who has wandered the region’s hills and ridges and has watched – and sometimes participated in – the conservation of our lands, one issue in particular strikes a nerve with me.

An Unfragmented Forest Landscape

N.H. Wildlife Action Plan for Antrim.
There’s good reason why the N.H. Fish and Game Department’s Wildlife Action Plan identifies the Tuttle-Willard ridge as the highest ranking habitat type in the state. It’s part of a nearly 13,000-acre block of unfragmented forest. It’s a forest that’s not bisected by roads and development.

Science has shown that, for forests and wildlife to be resilient and viable now and into the future, we need large blocks of whole forests, unfragmented by the maze of roads and development that break up so much of the Northeast’s lands.

Harvard scientist and Pulitzer prize-winning author Dr. E.O. Wilson has said that the greatest threat to life on Earth comes from habitat fragmentation and invasions of non-native species that find inroads from roads and development. It’s like death by thousand cuts.

Protected lands at Tuttle-Willard ridge.
The ridge is the unprotected
hill in the middle.
The Tuttle-Willard ridge is the north-western end of a remarkable 12,994-acre unfragmented forest block. It is remarkable for its size, quality and context; nearly one-third of the block is permanently protected land. That’s a testament to the hard work of not just a dozen or so conservation organizations, but also the landowners who’ve wanted to see their lands protected over the past 30-plus years.

All of these organizations are happy to point out that the Tuttle-Willard ridge lies in the heart of a larger heavily forested area that runs roughly from the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts to Mount Cardigan. Through the Quabbin-to-Cardigan Collaborative, a host of agencies and organizations aim to find sensible ways to protect the high wildlife values of this corridor.

The Winds on Tuttle Hill

For its part, Antrim Wind Energy has offered to add to that base of protected lands if its plan is approved. It has negotiated conservation easements with some of the landowners, covering 808 acres of the 1,800 acres that it would lease. While one of the easements – 123 acres on Willard Mountain – would restrict any ridge-top development, the other four easements allow limited future development, such as a home and ancillary buildings along the ridge. The biggest parcel, 943 acres, has no such agreement for a conservation easement.

The prospect of even limited development along that ridge is a major sticking point among opponents, including the Audubon Society, and for good reason. The ridgeline would have the openings and ready infrastructure to develop homes with commanding views, even if those homes were reached by a road other than the turbine access road. Hence the fragmentation.

Is wind part of the answer to our need to diversify our energy sources? Yes. Is the Tuttle-Willard ridge the best place for wind power? No. There’s too much at stake. Our insatiable appetite for energy – even clean energy – shouldn’t be a tradeoff for healthy forests and wildlife habitat. We all need it.

As the SEC discusses Antrim Wind Energy’s plan next month, the wind will be blowing on Tuttle Hill. Let’s hope the wind keeps blowing through that spruce.

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.

Antrim Wind Energy's plan from
Landscape architect Jean Vissering's photosimulation of turbines as seen from Willard Pond dam.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Resolution for 2013: Open the Door!

Kids Who Play Outside are Happier, Healthier and Smarter

Get those kids outside this year!
While you kick around a few resolutions to improve life in 2013, here’s one that a statewide organization hopes you’ll make – and keep – for the next year: Encourage kids to get outside.

The New Hampshire Children in Nature Coalition is onto something with this New Year’s resolution.

They point to mountains of research showing that kids who regularly play and enjoy the outdoors are happier, healthier and smarter than children who don’t get outside.

The coalition – which is comprised of all sorts of New Hampshire organizations and agencies – has released a new report, Opening Doors to Happier, Healthier Lives, which outlines recommendations for connecting kids with nature in New Hampshire.

The coalition’s seven goals – starting with getting kids outside to enjoy the great outdoors – are endorsed and welcomed by Susan E. Lynch, MD, New Hampshire’s First Lady.

Open the Door

“As a pediatric lipid specialist and as New Hampshire's First Lady, I am very interested in working to encourage children to lead a healthy, active lifestyle as a preventative measure against childhood obesity,” Lynch said. “This emphasis on the importance of the health and physical activity of our children is equally represented and championed by the great work of the NH Children in Nature Coalition.  This coalition demonstrates the importance of outdoor activities and learning experiences while utilizing New Hampshire's rich and diverse natural resources.”

Marilyn Wyzga knows Dr. Lynch is right. Wyzga has been on the front lines of efforts to connect kids with nature for years, mostly through her work with the NH Fish and Game Department and as a leader in the NH Children in Nature Coalition.

“Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher or any caregiver for kids, encourage your children to play outside,” Wyzga said. “Let them explore. Let them play in the snow, jump over a log, build a fort. It doesn’t have to be a formal activity; just enjoy a little time out each day. Open the door and let them play.”

Screens 54 Hours a Week?!

With today’s children watching screens an average of 54 hours a week, the consequences are obesity and sedentary lifestyles, deepening misconceptions about the natural world, and less emphasis on unstructured time outdoors, according to the Coalition’s report. “The price of continuing these trends is serious, not only for children and their families, but for our communities, our schools, our culture, our economy, and the identity of the Granite State.”

In New Hampshire, 71 percent of children ages 6 to 17 and 53 percent of high school students do not get enough physical activity, according to the NH Department of Health and Human Services. And it’s no coincidence that 32 percent of children ages 6 to 12 are overweight or obese. Combined, excess weight and lack of physical activity are risk factors for asthma, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic illnesses that burden the state’s health care system and lead to lost productivity.

Nationally, the amount of outside space where children are allowed to roam free around their homes is one-ninth what it was in 1970.

Yet, research shows that the benefits of embracing an active, outdoor lifestyle are many, and that children who spend time outdoors are healthier and more creative, have better concentration, and even get better grades. Author Richard Louv pointed this out in his poignant book “Last Child in the Woods,” which even coined a term for our youths’ indoor disposition: Nature Deficit Disorder.

Simple Goals, Simple Resolution

The good news is that we live in a great part of the world, where there’s ample room to roam and play, and at little or no cost.  In fact, as the Coalition points out, New Hampshire is well positioned to lead the nation in promoting a healthy, active lifestyle that takes advantage of all the natural beauty, outdoor opportunities, and facilities our state offers – attributes that already help make tourism one of the state’s most important economic engines.

The coalition – representing agencies and organizations from diverse health, education and conservation disciplines – supports seven goals:
  1. Increase participation in outdoor learning experiences for children and families. 
  2. Urge more children and families to get outside on a regular basis. 
  3. Ensure that every child has the opportunity to experience nature in his or her local community.
  4. Provide children with more time for free play outdoors. 
  5. Increase appreciation and care of the outdoors through organized activities and groups. 
  6. Improve the health, fitness, and well-being of New Hampshire children. 
  7. Deepen the understanding of the natural world among children and youth.
 They’re decent goals, and to make them happen, they really take more than a commitment from a statewide coalition, but also a commitment from you. If it’s one thing you resolve to do in 2013, just open the door. The kids will love it!

For more information about the N.H. Children in Nature Coalition and how you can make a resolution to reconnect children, youth and families with nature, visit