After a year of research at three sites to examine the potential impacts of wind energy development on the sage grouse, the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC) Sage-Grouse Research Collaborative has awarded a total of $533,500 to continue the research this year.
The research is part of the ongoing environmental impact studies being conducted for the massive 3 GW Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Farm. The proposed wind farm – located on public, private and state land in Carbon County, Wyo. – would contain up to 1,000 turbines and generate enough energy to power up to 1 million U.S. homes. The U.S. Department of the Interior finalized the project's environmental impact statement last month.
The funds will support continuing research for the following two projects:
- An ecological study of male greater sage-grouse in relation to wind energy development in Wyoming, and
- A study of the impacts of a wind energy development on greater sage-grouse populations in southeastern Wyoming.
Both teams will continue research throughout the year, and the NWCC will continue to oversee these studies through regular check-ins and reports from the research teams. The NWCC is also planning to conduct a combined analysis of the data from all of the studies to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the potential impacts of wind power on the sage grouse.
The goal of the research project is to investigate and quantify the effects of the construction and operation of wind energy development on male sage grouse through the study of survival, movements, habitat use, lek dynamics and sightability on the site, the NWCC says.
As of the end of 2011, Dr. Joshua Millspaugh, lead researcher for the project and professor of wildlife conservation at the University of Missouri, and his team had deployed 110 very high frequency (VHF) transmitters and 20 Global Positioning System (GPS) Platform Transmitter Terminal (PTT) transmitters on 36 adult/yearling male sage-grouse on the Overland Trail Ranch. This long-term study will include two to four years total of pre-construction study and five or more years of post-construction research.
"We are studying greater sage-grouse inhabiting areas near the PacifiCorp Seven Mile Hill wind project located approximately 15 km west of Medicine Bow, Wyo.," says Dr. Matt Holloran, lead researcher and senior ecologist at Wyoming Wildlife Consultants LLC. "Research was initiated in April 2009, and the NWCC joined the effort in 2011. We expect to continue research through at least the 2013 breeding season."
Holloran's team is tracking female greater sage grouse equipped with VHF radio-transmitters to document seasonal habitats (e.g., nesting, brood-rearing, summer, winter) and population demographics (e.g., survival, nesting success, chick productivity). In 2011, the team equipped 100 female greater sage grouse with radio-transmitters. In addition to radio-tracking greater sage grouse, they collected vegetation data at 181 use and random plots and conducted avian predator (e.g., Corvidae and raptors) nest and point count surveys throughout the study area.
"We will compare greater sage grouse using habitats near wind turbines to grouse using habitats away from wind turbines to assess population-level effects of the wind energy development," Holloran explains. "Vegetation and avian predator data will be used to generate covariates for inclusion in wind energy development impact modeling."