Effects of Wind Energy on Wildlife
Photo of wind turbines at sunset

Wind energy developments are increasing in Wyoming where some of the best conditions for wind energy production exist. However, the effects of wind energy developments on wildlife remain poorly understood.

ajohnston@usgs.govWant More Information?

Contact Aaron Johnston

406-994-7158

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. 

Study Objectives

  • Synthesize existing information on wind developments and their effects on wildlife in southwest Wyoming.
  • Quantify short-term and long-term disturbances from construction of wind farms throughout Wyoming.
  • Identify species vulnerable to wind development and spatial overlap with wind facilities.
  • Identify research and management needs concerning wildlife and wind energy.
Map with marked wind power generation facilities in the WLCI region

Map displaying wind energy generation sites (red circles) along with coal resources in the WLCI region. The full map can be accessed at https://pubs.usgs.gov/ds/683/contents/Plates/Plate1_WLCI_CoalWindMap.pdf.

Wind Farms and Wildlife Habitat

Beginning in 2017, USGS scientists compiled information on existing and proposed wind farms throughout Wyoming to determine their status, distribution, and overlap with areas of conservation concern, including core areas for greater sage grouse and crucial range for ungulates. Land and wildlife managers have expressed concern over effects of wind farms on habitat use by ungulates (especially pronghorn, mule deer, and elk) and greater sage grouse. Within the WLCI focal area, most existing and proposed wind farms are within seasonal habitats for pronghorn, mule deer, and elk; at least five proposed farms are within areas identified as crucial range for pronghorn by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. We assembled spatial data to quantify disturbances at wind farms across Wyoming from pre- to post-construction. Species’ risk to wind developments will be evaluated through spatial analyses of species’ ranges, habitat maps, and the distribution of wind farms. These analyses will be completed in 2018 to inform managers of ground disturbances across space and time that can be expected from proposed wind farms within landscapes of Wyoming. New map products that depict infrastructure of wind farms will provide useful data to support analyses of wildlife interactions with wind energy infrastructure.

 

Photo of sandhill cranes navigating around a wind turbine.
Photo of running elk wearing radiocollar
Photo of wind turbines

Sandhill cranes navigate around a wind turbine. Birds and bats can collide with wind turbines and fatalities have been documented at wind energy facilities across the country.

Wind energy projects may fall within the migration routes of large mammals such as elk, deer, and pronghorn. Little is known about the effects of wind developments on large mammal migrations.

Renewable energy, including wind generation, is expected to provide a larger component of the U.S. energy supply to maintain adequate electrical power into the future. Ten wind farms are currently operating in the WLCI region and five more are proposed.

Project Partners

Bureau of Land Management

Wyoming Game and Fish Department