An all-volunteer effort by New Hampshire birders to get every presidential candidate to go birdwatching while in the Granite State had its first success on Sunday, July 21. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is Donald Trump’s only declared challenger for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination, went on a bird walk at the 10,000-acre Randolph Community Forest in northern New Hampshire.
Sheridan Brown, an attorney from Grantham, N.H., is the organizer of Primary Feathers: Retail Politics … with Binoculars, a project to entice presidential candidates to connect with birders — a large yet overlooked constituency. He invites fellow birders to participate in and lead the walks with politicians. “We want to involve as many different faces from birdwatching and local conservation as possible,” he says. “People can sign up at the website, and — as long as they aren’t paid political activists — we’d love to have them as participants and trip leaders.”
Before the walk got started, “Weld questioned me right away on what birds we might see and what the rarest species were,” Brown says. “When I mentioned there was a Black-backed Woodpecker one town over — but we’d get eaten alive by deer flies at the location — he noted that he needed that for his life list and jokingly said ‘let’s go.’ We didn’t, for the sake of the group.”
During the walk, Weld, his wife Leslie Marshall, and about a dozen birders saw a family of Ruffed Grouse, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos, and other birds.
Afterwards, the group went to a pavilion at Durand Lake Recreation Area for a sit-down discussion with Weld.
“These conversations differ from the usual candidate engagement on environmental issues in that they feature no paid activists, no scorecards, no pledges, no scripted/coached questions, and no pressure,” Brown says. “The goal is to have a relaxed interaction with candidates, show them some interesting birds and other wildlife, highlight local conservation partners, and learn about candidates’ outdoor interests and general conservation ethic.”
The discussion with Weld covered a lot of ground.
“My questions to him were more on his strategy for defeating Trump, as I already knew much about his conservation record,” Brown says. “Still, I learned more about his conservation efforts as a result of the conversational format. For example, he shared with the group that his involvement in significant conservation efforts goes all the way back to when he drafted the Massachusetts law giving tax incentives for conservation easements as an associate attorney — at age 20! He signed the Rivers Protection Act into law in Massachusetts. He continues to be involved with the state’s Trustees of Reservations and other philanthropic efforts.”
Weld was complimentary of the efforts of the attendees — “many of whom were involved in the partnership effort to conserve the site of the walk, the Randolph Community Forest,” Brown says. “He was very interested in the price per acre, noting what a good deal the partners got. Weld shared his belief that when you can think big and protect large tracts of land, you can often get them cheaply from conservation-minded landowners. Once they are in the hands of developers, it is a very different story. Weld recounted many efforts of proactively engaging landowners and said he would bring the same ‘think big’ approach to climate change and other conservation issues — involving multiple partners. Weld shared his experiences growing up around lakes and forest of the Adirondacks and in an undeveloped area of Long Island that became a park while the rest was ‘ruined’ by malls.
“As intended, the whole event was very conversational,” Brown adds. “Attendees had the opportunity to speak individually with Weld on the walk, so I don’t know what many of the questions were. I was there when he was asked about climate change and the Green New Deal. He responded that we need to think big in addressing climate change, but the plan fails by not including nuclear power. Meanwhile, Weld said it goes further in other areas than what is required to address climate change.”
‘Genuine interest in birds and nature’
“I think we were all impressed by his policy knowledge and his genuine interest in birds and nature,” Brown says of Weld. “He was checking out butterflies, mushrooms, and even deer scat along the way. He also had a real interest in us and our conservation interests.”
Brown says he expects to have firm commitments from other candidates “very soon.” The site for a birdwatching walk or stop with any one candidate would almost certainly vary. “Coastal, farm, forest, lake, and urban habitats are all in play,” Brown says.
Here’s where you come in! Even if you can’t attend a Primary Feathers event, do you have a question related to birds, nature, conservation, or other environmental issues that you’d like to ask a presidential candidate? If so, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it to Brown. Or send your question via the Primary Feathers website.