The American West is changing at a faster pace than anytime in history and easy answers to complicated questions are hard to come by. Renewable energy is great and we should develop wind and solar as fast as possible before we all burn up right? Not so fast. Wyoming and the surrounding Western states bear the burden of developing energy responsibly and leaving some of our natural and Western heritage for future generations. The Western energy portfolio of oil, natural gas, coal bed methane, geothermal, wind, and solar will be discussed for many years to come; and how we develop today, where we choose to fragment the land will leave a lasting impact. It’s our obligation to challenge assumptions while viewing the West from a landscape perspective; and making images from a small airplane is a great place to start.
Dispatch from the Field
LightHawk pilot Mike Conway guided me over known and unfamiliar terrain to photograph the footprint of wind farms and areas planned for development. At times we could see wind turbines from foreground to horizon, spinning methodically in world-class wind. Mike’s Husky carried us over the flooded North Platte River, braided as if the Pleistocene glaciers were just receding. We followed a valley South of Rawlins to see an area known as Chokecherry/Sierra Madre that’s planned for 1,000 turbines that will send 2,000 megawatts to Southern California. I made images of rolling sagebrush in spring green, crossed by the Oregon Trail, and considered the impact to endangered sage grouse, obligate species, and ungulate migrations. Whatever your vision of the American West, insert 1,000 wind turbines, natural gas wells, pump jacks, open chemical waste pits, roads with heavy trucks, transmission lines, pipelines – industrial zones – and understand that every project, even those with the “green” label, must be challenged and sited with respect for wildlife, migration corridors, recreation, Western heritage, and sustainability. What we do today matters, you bet.
Dave Showalter’s Sage Spirit conservation book project is documenting a changing American West. Sage Spirit is planned for outreach, education, and responsible land management to protect important places in the West for wildlife and our Western heritage. Dave is an Associate Fellow in the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Audubon and LightHawk are two of Dave’s top conservation partners for the Sage Spirit project.