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The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has released guidelines designed to help wind energy project developers avoid and minimize the impacts of land-based wind projects on wildlife and their habitats.

According to the DOI, the voluntary guidelines will help shape the siting, design and operation of the nation's growing wind energy economy. The voluntary guidelines are designed to be used for all utility-scale, community-scale and distributed land-based wind energy projects on both private and public lands.

According to the DOI, the most important thing a developer can do is to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) early in the development of a wind energy project. Early consultation offers the greatest opportunity for avoiding areas where development is precluded or where wildlife impacts are likely to be high and difficult or costly to remedy or mitigate at a later stage.

By consulting early, the DOI adds, project developers can also incorporate appropriate wildlife conservation measures and monitoring into their decisions about project siting, design and operation.

The DOI says the guidelines assist developers in identifying species of concern that may potentially be affected by their proposed project, including migratory birds; bats; bald and golden eagles and other birds of prey; prairie and sage grouse; and listed, proposed or candidate endangered and threatened species.

These impacts may include the following:

  • Collisions with wind turbines and associated infrastructure, and loss and degradation of habitat from turbines and infrastructure;
  • Fragmentation of large habitat blocks into smaller segments that may not support sensitive species;
  • Displacement and behavioral changes; and
  • Indirect effects, such as increased predator populations or introduction of invasive plants.

A tiered approach
Using a tiered approach, the guidelines provide a structured, scientific process for developers, federal and state agencies, and tribes to identify sites with low risk to wildlife, and to help them assess, mitigate and monitor any adverse effects of wind energy projects on wildlife and their habitats.

During the pre-construction tiers (Tiers 1, 2 and 3), developers will work with the
FWS to identify and avoid/minimize risks to species of concern. During the post-construction tiers (Tiers 4 and 5), developers will assess whether actions taken in earlier tiers to avoid and minimize impacts are successfully achieving the goals and, when necessary, take additional steps to reduce impacts.

Subsequent tiers refine and build upon issues raised and efforts undertaken in previous tiers. Each tier offers a set of questions to help the developer evaluate the potential risk associated with developing a project at the given location.

“The guidelines outline a consistent and predictable approach to wind energy development while also providing flexibility to developers in recognition of the unique circumstances of each project,” says FWS Director Dan Ashe. “These guidelines reflect an enormous amount of work and care by the Fish and Wildlife Service and dozens of experts from all sides of the wind energy issue.”

These guidelines replace voluntary interim guidelines issued by the FWS in 2003. They are the result of a five-year process that included multiple opportunities for public review and comment.

The DOI’s new guidelines were welcomed by the wind energy industry.

“These guidelines set the highest standard - either voluntary or mandatory - of wildlife protection for any industry,” says Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “It is our hope that, in conjunction with rapid training and sensible implementation, the guidelines will promote improved siting practices and increased wildlife protection that, in turn, will foster the continued rapid growth of wind energy across the nation.”

"Facilitating the timely and responsible development of wind energy while protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat is the shared goal of the conservation organizations and wind energy companies that founded the [American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI)],” adds Abby Arnold, executive director of the AWWI. “AWWI is prepared to work with all key stakeholders to implement the guidelines to maximize development of wind power and minimize impacts to wildlife."

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