Is Wind Power on the Great Plains a Catch-22 For Wildlife?


photo: Eric Wittman via flickr

Earlier this week a new journal article was released that calculated the amount of land needed for energy production under various future energy and climate policy scenarios for 2030 -- in short how much energy sprawl could be created. Nature Conservancy Magazine has an interesting related piece on how balancing the needs of protecting threatened bird species and transitioning to a low-carbon energy supply is playing out. Here's a bit of that:80,000 Square Miles Needed for Energy by 2030...
The gist of the energy sprawl idea is that by 2030 the amount of land needed for wind, solar and biofuel production (the latter requiring vast amounts of land in comparison to other energy sources) will be larger than the state of Minnesota -- about 80,000 square miles.

...Could Be Bad News For Bird Habitat
The article points out:

That could be bad news for sensitive species like the lesser prairie chicken. Their distribution has declined 90 percent since the 1800s, and [the Nature Conservancy's director of conservation in Kansas Rob] Manes says they are likely to be listed as a federally threatened species. A five-year study by Kansas State University found these ground-nesting birds avoid roads and just about any man-made structure, such as electricity transmission towers, where raptors and other predators might perch.

As much of the lesser prairie chicken's habitat overlaps with ideal land for wind power, it's a sticky situation. Without proper management and careful siting of wind farms, the lesser prairie chicken could be driven out entirely.


Lesser prairie chicken photo: Dominic Sherony via flickr.
Public Energy Potential & Wildlife Habitat Database Needed
The solution, Manes says is to create a publicly available database of new and existing maps of wildlife, wind, and environmental data so that wind power developers could get access to all the information they need, early on in the development process. This would allow them to avoid wildlife and other environmental conflicts early on.

Because the database was publicly available, they could continue to be tight-lipped about exactly what parcels of land they are considering, not showing their hand to other wind power developers before they were ready.

Without Action Wildlife Could Suffer - With the Wrong Action It Could Too
The article really describes the situation with wind power and wildlife on the Great Plains is a Catch-22 -- rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are likely to further threaten grassland bird species' habitat, but if not managed well, so could developing the clean energy required to reduce carbon emissions and potentially save them.

Read more: An Ill Wind? Wind power might slow climate change, but will all those windmills hurt nature?
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Tags: Birds | Conservation | Renewable Energy | United States | Wind Power