Forest Society’s priorities are blowin’ in the wind

The organization had numerous reasons to oppose Groton Wind, but never did

What has become of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests’ mission and priorities? It appears that misguided fundraising has the organization lost in the woods.

The Forest Society has raised and spent millions buying land in hopes of killing the Northern Pass project, claiming transmission lines would damage New Hampshire’s landscape. Forest Society spokesman Will Abbott recently stated, “The economies of central and northern New Hampshire are heavily dependent on the landscape, and if you scar the landscape, you scar the economy.”

Naturally, one would think the Forest Society would be equally opposed to 400-foot-tall, night-lit wind turbines “scarring” the tops of well-known and scenic mountains that can be seen up to 40 miles away. Yet instead of opposing the massive 24-tower wind farm, the Forest Society played a strange and significant role in paving the way for that project to be built.

In 2009, Spanish-owned Iberdola Renewables came to New Hampshire wanting to build “Groton Wind,” needing to lease about 3,900 acres from Green Acres Woodlands, a private timberland owner. Groton Wind knew the Forest Society was trying to put the land under a conservation easement, and told the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services in October 2009, “Groton Wind is planning to assist the Forest Society to help make this happen.”

At a 2009 meeting with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Groton Wind said it was assisting the Forest Society in getting the easement, “by providing in-kind services and environmental information and potentially funding of the project.” It was suggested that its “proposed contribution to the [Forest Society] conservation easement over the leased lands could be considered as appropriate mitigation,” to get Groton Wind approved.

An April 2010 Forest Society letter to DES attempted to clarify the strange relationship between the threesome: landowner Green Acres Woodlands, the Spanish wind farm developer that needed the land, and the Forest Society, which supposedly wanted to protect the land from development.

In her letter, Forest Society President Jane Difley admitted that the society was being “compensated” by Green Acres Woodlands, which was now listed as a wind farm partner, and that the Forest Society would “not be offering an opinion on the wind project as part of the permitting process.”

It’s no wonder. In its permit application, Groton Wind states that as compensatory mitigation for its wetlands impacts, it will assist the Forest Society “in its efforts to protect up to 6,578 acres of land in Groton, Hebron, Rumney, Dorchester, and Plymouth in a conservation easement …”

The Forest Society was also happy to accept Groton Wind’s in-kind service for “survey and other data,” but this does not imply that they support the project. As Shakespeare writes in Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

The Forest Society had numerous reasons to oppose Groton Wind, including a multi-year effort to put the land under a conservation easement through the federally funded Forest Legacy Program.

In November 2007, the Forest Society declared the land “forms the core of one of the largest and most ecologically rich forests south of the White Mountains.”

Another reason is that the Forest Society’s Cockermouth Forest abuts Groton Wind. Cockermouth consists of 1,000 acres in Groton and Hebron and is touted for its “incredible views and numerous opportunities for observing wildlife year-round.”

But if you look to northern ridgelines, those “incredible views” are obscured by 24 whooshing windmills. As for viewing wildlife, you might see some falcons, bats, and songbirds, both alive and dead. Wind farms are notorious for killing birds and bats.

The Forest Society’s latest money-raising campaign is called “Trees Not Towers,” yet it clearly doesn’t apply to 400-foot wind towers. It is a stunning display of dishonesty and hypocrisy.

Fran Wendelboe of New Hampton is a former Republican state representative.

Categories: Opinion