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Even if you drive by an oil and gas field or wind farm to reach your favorite hunting or fishing spot, you may not give much thought to how much is at stake for sportsmen and sportswomen when it comes to developing our energy resources, including renewable sources such as wind.
But it’s a critical time to think about the possible impacts, and here’s why.
After the Trump Administration prioritized oil and gas drilling and coal mining on public lands—rescinding many previous policies and making it easier to lease and develop fossil fuels—the energy development pendulum has swung back in the other direction. Now, advancing renewable energy production on public lands has become a top priority as part of the Biden Administration’s response to the climate crisis.
The impacts of climate change—including steady habitat loss—are undeniable and must be addressed. The hunting and fishing community understands that major shifts in energy policy will be necessary to meet the goals set forth by the Biden Administration, including a commitment to generating a whopping 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 and permitting at least 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy by 2025.
But there are many unanswered questions about impacts likely to occur while achieving these goals.
There is no question that renewable energy sources—wind, solar, and geothermal—have an important role to play in helping to solve the climate crisis, but at what cost? We know oil and gas development can suppress mule deer populations, but what about renewables? The impacts on birds and bats are well documented, but less is known about how expanding renewables on public lands will impact habitat and populations of game birds or big game animals. And the few studies that have been conducted indicate mixed results.
Studies on grouse species, like greater sage grouse and prairie chickens, have shown both neutral response and negative impacts from wind turbines. Researchers have expressed caution about placing wind turbines within a mile or so of occupied sage grouse habitat until we fully understand the breadth of impacts on these birds. In Wyoming, pronghorn antelope were displaced by wind turbines during the winter, but the overall impact on the population remains unclear. These researchers noted that more than a decade of animal tracking data in the Cowboy State can help identify places to site wind turbines to be more compatible with big game species.
Because we need more data, the rush to develop and bring renewable energy resources to the market could negatively impact fish and wildlife and result in the loss of access for hunters and anglers.
A poorly located solar project near a pronghorn migration corridor may be just as devastating as a coal mine or natural gas field—we don’t know for sure. Access roads, fencing, and transmission lines associated with renewable projects could all have negative impacts on wildlife, as well. And while one project alone may not have significant effects, at some point a threshold will be reached where impacts will undoubtedly occur for many species. Too many turbines or solar projects in an area will “industrialize” a landscape, perhaps to a point of no return.
The key to any energy development is avoidance of critical habitats and siting wisely—or being “smart from the start.” This idea is not new. Obama Administration officials coined the phrase and, more than a decade ago, the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition—led by the TRCP, Trout Unlimited, and the National Wildlife Federation—released a report with a set of ten “smart from the start” principles for developing renewable energy on public lands.
These principles are still valid today in a new and fast-paced renewable energy frontier:
When applied, these principles can help ensure renewable energy development’s compatibility with the needs of fish, wildlife, and hunters and anglers.
There is little doubt that sportsmen and sportswomen are about to see some rapid changes on public lands and more solar, wind, and geothermal projects emerging. As with oil and gas extraction, our community supports the multiple-use mandates on our public lands—and among those uses is energy development. We also demand that these resources be developed wisely and without loss to ever-shrinking fish and wildlife habitats that support our recreational pursuits.
The SFRED coalition members will continue to carry the sporting community voice in land-use planning and policy debates so that all forms of energy are balanced. Our community also knows there must be big policy shifts to tackle the impacts of climate change on the environment. But today’s fish and wildlife cannot be forgotten or sacrificed in the rush to solve the climate crisis.
Top photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Most successful hunters, at least the ones I know, are planners. Outcome-oriented and detail-minded, they channel their passion through checklists and are guided by research. Because so many variables are already involved in the pursuit of wild game, there’s a strong incentive to leave as little to chance as possible.
Even though I’m more likely than not to leave a tag unfilled (and not for lack of trying), I count myself among the planners. For that reason, it was a strange feeling to find myself this past fall sitting alone in my truck at an unfamiliar trailhead, waiting for the arrival of new partners with whom I’d never before hunted, and some of whom I hadn’t yet met.
All had, like me, never been to this area. But thanks to Idaho’s sale of returned general deer licenses, here we were.
The agreed-upon logistics were about as simple as it gets: Hike down the trail a few miles with camp on our backs, and spend a long weekend climbing high each morning, looking for deer. In short, we were winging it.
But even without much of a plan, we had a clear purpose in mind. The idea behind this deer hunt was to bring together different folks working in parallel on issues of mutual interest. We hoped to learn a bit more about each other’s efforts to benefit wildlife and wild places and, in doing so, to identify opportunities for future collaboration between our respective teams.
Kevin is a researcher and educator at the University of Wyoming, where his work focuses on migratory big game animals. Ford (First Lite) and Craig (Maven) are both industry professionals with backgrounds in biology, who are helping to shape the public face of two conservation-minded companies. And in my role for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, I work to educate sportsmen and sportswomen about the issues that matter most for hunters and encourage them to speak up for smart policies. Along for the ride—and a delightful final addition to the team—was videographer Nic Tapia. This was Nic’s first exposure to hunting, and he arrived eager to learn.
The specific topic of conversation was big game migration, which has emerged in recent years as one of the most urgent priorities for wildlife managers across the West. Cutting-edge research enabled by advances in GPS technology has allowed biologists to track animals’ seasonal travels with unprecedented precision. This growing body of data has transformed our understanding of migration not only in a quantitative sense (i.e., more dots on the maps) but in a qualitative sense as well: We now know how susceptible a herd’s overall health is to the disruption of a migratory corridor, particularly if that disruption occurs in a bottleneck or stopover area.
Across the West, development of all kinds is accelerating, and intact landscapes are being subdivided. Meanwhile, the global demand for energy continues to balloon. Without accounting for how our collective footprint could impact migratory big game, the consequences can be significant and long-lasting.
While the science has illuminated the stakes of this issue, the realm of policy is still catching up. State fish and game agencies have made strong headway, to be sure, but migration corridor conservation poses its own unique challenges.
Because the routes used by big game herds to travel between their seasonal ranges span multiple land ownerships and management frameworks, effective policymaking requires close coordination between federal and state agencies at various levels. Landowners and working ranches and agricultural properties play an especially important role in the functioning of these corridors, so substantive public-private collaboration is key. And sportsmen and sportswomen need to speak up so that the officials undertaking this important work receive the funding and institutional support required to keep it up over the long haul.
Early last year, Maven and First Lite decided to combine their respective platforms to bring greater awareness to this issue through a short film. As a biologist working on the front lines of research, as well as training the next generation of wildlife professionals, Kevin was a natural fit for the project. And because of my work in the realm of advocacy, I was lucky enough to join in the fun. In my mind, the opportunity to spend a few days in the field looking for mule deer and picking the brain of one of the world’s preeminent mule deer experts was just too good to pass up.
Given the lack of any structured plan, we let the days following our trailhead meetup unfold in the moment. Frosty mornings slipped away into sunny afternoons. The conversations stretched wide and dove deep.
Along the way, Kevin generously shared with us both his bottomless knowledge of mule deer behavior, as well as the role that hunting plays in both his family and professional life. Ford and Craig brainstormed how their respective brands could help Kevin and his students, and we discussed the challenge of communicating the implications of scientific nuances for policy and hunting opportunity.
In between conversations, our glassing turned up lots of elk, quite a few moose, and—towards the end of the trip—more and more mule deer. Though we remained optimistic, the mature bucks we hoped to find proved elusive; other hunters, not so much.
Our last full day of hunting proved the most exciting. That morning, Kevin and Craig turned up a young fork-horned buck, and Kevin wasted no time in filling his tag. After a painless downhill pack out, they spent the rest of the day relaxing back at the trucks.
Meanwhile, Ford, Nic, and I—unaware of Kevin’s success—huddled on a blustery ridge a few miles away, helping a young hunter who had drawn one of the area’s limited tags for bull elk. Sitting beside the boy’s father, we watched through our glass as he made a quick stalk with his younger brother and cousin, resulting in a shot on a nice 6×6 we’d spotted earlier. Our group then joined them in a heart-wrenching (but ultimately successful) search for a blood trail in the moonlight.
When the three of us stumbled back to the trailhead late that evening, cold beers and a lively recap of the day’s activity were exchanged across the flickering light of the camp stove. With a cooler full of fresh meat, we decided to forgo the dehydrated meals remaining in our food bags. Instead, Kevin made Chislic, a celebratory deer camp tradition from his native South Dakota: bite-sized pieces of fresh venison trim, salted heavily and flash-fried. We all ate our fill and soon called it a night.
The next morning, our group took one final hike up to a nearby glassing point. As darkness retreated from the landscape, snowflakes peppered us from above. With hat brims and hoods pulled low against the wind, we watched a string of deer pick their way through an aspen patch beneath us. Slowly, and then all at once, the trip’s last opportunity to joke and tell stories crowded out any thoughts of our final chance to turn up a second buck.
Later, we each headed off in our respective directions homeward, wishing one another luck with the season’s remaining tags while trading reminders to follow up on plans and ideas cooked up in camp and along the trail. Energized by both the weekend’s conversations and shared sense of purpose, I gave little thought to the empty cooler in my rearview mirror. Instead, my mind wandered across the rich ground we’d covered—both literal and metaphorical—in the days prior. The drive passed quickly with only a short stop halfway through for hotdogs and gasoline.
Support our work to conserve migration corridors with a donation to conservation today, and get a free koozie when you donate $5 or more. Koozies available through First Lite and Maven. Donations will be split between the TRCP and Monteith Shop.
Head over to the TRCP’s migration site for an overview of the issue, links to additional resources, the latest news, and opportunities to take action.
Photos courtesy of Craig Okraska / Maven.
Gregg Flores has been behind the lens for multiple TRCP video projects focused on water resources in the Colorado River Basin, and we’re very proud to work with someone with his talent and commitment to conservation.
For this and many other reasons, he’s someone we think you should know. Here is his story.
My dad, Gregg Flores Sr., was a passionate fisherman long before I was born and introduced me to fishing as soon as he could. I recall mainly using nets to catch catfish and bass in ditches adjacent to the Rio Grande River in Central and Southern New Mexico. I eventually discovered flyfishing and have since guided other anglers on many Northern New Mexico trout streams.
No one in the Flores family was hunting in the 1980s, but in 2015, I reignited that tradition when I applied for and drew my first deer tag in New Mexico. I didn’t harvest a deer until 2017, on a muzzleloader hunt with my younger brother, Michael, and that moment was incredibly special. The journey I had begun two years earlier to reignite our family’s hunting traditions had come full circle.
Sharing that moment with my brother meant the world to me, and bringing meat home sparked an interest in hunting that rippled throughout the entire family. I am proud to say that hunting is once again a large part of our family’s culture.
I understand and appreciate that some people love being in the wild alone, but one of the single biggest reasons I get outside is to spend quality time with my family. And conservation provides a sustainable way for me connect to the land, water, and wildlife with my loved ones. Those times are precious to me and absolutely priceless.
I have a dream of flyfishing and hunting in British Columbia. Wild steelhead and caribou AND moose? Yes, please! It would be a dream come true.
The Rio Grande, like the Colorado River and many other Western watersheds, is facing the devastation of drought and overuse. Saving these river basins is one of the biggest conservation challenges in our region right now.
I make a living using film and photography to tell stories that are focused on the connection people have to their loved ones and to land, water, and wildlife. That connection is impossible without conservation.
I don’t tell stories to simply make a living. I make an intentional effort to tell stories about people who care about the resource they are using and are also doing something to protect those resources. In my mind, these stories are slowly creating a legacy I can be proud to leave behind.
At its 13th annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership was proud to celebrate the conservation achievements of Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.), Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Kim Jordan, co-founder of New Belgium Brewing Company and founder and Board chair of the Mighty Arrow Family Foundation.
“Like TRCP founder Jim Range, our honorees are pragmatic conservationists, who understand that people are a part of the land and believe we are duty-bound to leave a natural legacy to future generations,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP president and CEO, who co-emceed the event from the historic Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. He was joined via livestream by Steven Rinella, who helped to present the awards and select sweepstakes winners from the MeatEater studios in Bozeman, Mont. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland gave the opening remarks in D.C.
Sen. Boozman has used his long tenure on the Senate Agriculture Committee to enhance important incentives for fish and wildlife habitat conservation on private lands. As ranking member of the Committee and a member of the Migratory Bird Council, Boozman is a strong leader on Farm Bill conservation programs and a champion of wetlands conservation.
Sen. Cortez Masto has led the fight to protect Nevada’s Ruby Mountains from development, engaging a diverse coalition of hunters, anglers, Tribes, and outdoor enthusiasts. She also serves as Chair of the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining. She was a key supporter of the Great American Outdoors Act and has been a strong proponent of sensible oil and gas leasing reform.
Kim Jordan co-founded New Belgium Brewing, one of most respected craft breweries and innovative businesses in America. Since 1991, giving back has been a part of New Belgium’s guiding principles thanks to Jordan’s leadership. After selling the company to her employees in 2012, she remained an outspoken champion for clean water and the environment, and through the Mighty Arrow Family Foundation, Jordan and her family have become philanthropic leaders in the areas of climate change, sustainable food systems, land and water conservation, and social justice.
“John Boozman, Catherine Cortez Masto, and Kim Jordan understand that conservation is not a partisan issue—it is something that should connect us all as Americans,” says Fosburgh. “We’re thrilled to recognize them for their stalwart commitment to conservation, habitat, and access.”
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More