Wind Energy in the Southwestern Wyoming
Wind energy developments have increased recently in southwest Wyoming, where their impacts on wildlife remain poorly understood. Wind currently meets 4% of US energy needs and is expected to account for 35% of demands by 2050. Significant growth of wind energy will likely continue within the WLCI focal area because Wyoming ranks first in the US for wind resources. Wind farms have been in southwest Wyoming since the 1970’s, and 10 farms were in operation within the WLCI focal area as of 2012. The largest wind farm in North America, known as the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Project, is in development near Rawlins, Wyoming, and will operate 1,000 turbines distributed across 220,000 acres of public and private lands. In addition, several new wind farms have been proposed in the vicinity of Medicine Bow, Wyoming.
Wind development may affect wildlife through habitat alteration, behavioral avoidance, and fatal collisions with turbines. Recent research has quantified wildlife losses to collisions with turbines at many facilities worldwide, but effects on wildlife populations are poorly understood. Researchers have tested means to minimize wildlife fatalities through turbine curtailment, wildlife deterrents, and strategic site selection for developments. Most research has concerned collisions with turbines by bats and birds, but some efforts have evaluated effects on species unlikely to collide with turbines like sage-grouse and pronghorn. Information about research activities on wildlife populations around wind developments in Wyoming and data access is currently scattered, which makes effective research planning difficult for WLCI partners.
A comprehensive assessment of wind and wildlife issues in southwest Wyoming is needed for WLCI to address stakeholder concerns about wind farms and to further incorporate wind into the WLCI research program on energy and wildlife.