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  Nebraska Wind Energy and Wildlife Project

Wind Energy & Wildlife

Overview

  • Wildlife in Nebraska are found in habitats ranging from marshes, streams, prairies, forests, and in your backyard.
     
  • Over 95% or approximately 450 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians are not hunted in Nebraska but provide aesthetic, cultural, and economic value to Nebraskans.
     
  • Every spring and fall millions of waterfowl, cranes, shorebirds, and more stop in Nebraska during their migration.
     
  • Twenty-seven wildlife species are listed as threatened or endangered in Nebraska and are protected by state and federal laws.
     
  • Forty Biologically Unique Landscapes have been designated in Nebraska as well as species that may be at-risk of extinction or extirpation from the state.
     
  • Potential impacts to wildlife and the environment from wind energy development can be through direct impacts on individual animals and through indirect impacts that cause loss or degradation of habitat.
     
  • Through impact avoidance, minimization, and mitigation, impacts to wildlife and the environment by wind energy development can be reduced.
     
  • Decision support tools have been developed to reduce the potential impacts to wildlife and the environment by wind energy development.
Screech owl. Photo by Katherine Patrick.

Screech owl. Photo by Katherine Patrick.

 

 

 

 

More information:

http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/conservation/wildlife_species.asp – The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission wildlife species information.

http://www.fws.gov/nebraskaes/index.htm - U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Nebraska Field Office home page.

Big brown bat. Photo by Keith Geluso.

Big brown bat. Photo by Keith Geluso.

Piping plover chick. USFWS image.

Piping plover chick. USFWS image.

Black-crowned night heron. USFWS image.

Black-crowned night heron. USFWS image.

Hoary bat. Photo by Keith Geluso.

Hoary bat. Photo by Keith Geluso.

American avocet. USFWS image.

American avocet. USFWS image.

Potential Impacts

The potential impacts of wind energy development on wildlife are divided into direct and indirect impacts.

Direct Impacts

Direct impacts or mortality occur when birds and bats collide with wind turbines, towers, or transmission lines servicing wind farms. The change in pressure around a wind turbine can cause internal hemorrhaging or barotrauma that leads to death in bats.

The greatest number of turbine-related mortalities occur in and along migration routes and include:

  • Mountain passes
  • Large river valleys
  • Ridge-tops and bluffs
  • Stop-over sites such as wetlands

Study Results

Birds:

  • An overview of research from the past 20 years indicates that bird collisions range from 0 up to more than 30 collisions/turbine/year (Kuvlesky et al. 2007).
     
  • Passerines (night migrants in particular) have been estimated to have a collision rate of 2.19 birds/turbine/year for wind farms located on rangelands, agricultural lands, or woodlands in the U.S. (Erickson et al. 2001).
     
  • Raptors have longer life spans and reproduce at a slower rate than other birds. Collision mortalities could have greater impacts on their populations than other bird popultions. At Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California, it is estimated that 881-1,300 birds are killed annually (Thelander 2004) with raptors accounting for about 570-835 of the dead birds (Smallwood and Thelander 2005).

Bats:

  • Bat collision rates at one study site were 47.53 bats/turbine/year (Kerns and Kerlinger unpublished report).
     
  • It is estimated that between 2000-2011, about 975,000 bats were killed by wind turbines in the U.S. and Canada.
     
  • More information can be found in the Bats of Nebraska fact sheet.

Indirect Impacts

Indirect impacts of wind energy development to wildlife can be from habitat loss and/or degradation from wind farm and the associated infrastructure and/or from changes of wildlife behavior that result in them avoiding the area around the wind farm. Indirect impacts represent an environmental cost that may be greater than direct impacts, especially in the grasslands of the Great Plains.

Wind farm construction and infrastructure, including roads and transmission lines, can:

  • Fragment habitats
  • Create barriers to migration for small animals
  • Introduce invasive species
  • Disturb animal behavior
  • Displace wildlife from an area

Study Results

  • The construction of roads has been shown to negatively impact a number of bird species present in an area, facilitate the spread of invasive plants, and increase habitat fragmentation (Ingelfinger and Anderson 2004).
     
  • Wind turbines constructed on a prairie landscape are a tall structure in a "sea" of grass. Birds that have evolved on prairie landscapes may reacted negatively to the presence of wind turbines in their habitat (Stewart et al. 2005, Leddy et al. 1999).
     
  • The lesser prairie-chicken will leave areas of otherwise suitable habitat to avoid tall features (Anderson 1969), especially anthropogenic features(Pitman et al. 2005, Pruett et al. 2009, Robel et al. 2004).
     

Potential Solutions

Researchers, natural resource managers, wind farm developers, and other stakeholders continue to work on ways to avoid, minimize, and mitigate the potential direct and indirect impacts of wind energy development on wildlife. Using tools, such as state and federal guidance documents, can guide wind farm site selection that takes into account wildlife and habitats. As we learn more about how wildlife and habitats are impacted by wind energy development, we can work towards developing ways to further minimize potential impacts.

Avoid, Minimize, Mitigate

The potential impacts of wind energy development on wildlife and habitats have been studied and several have been identified. There may be additional impacts to wildlife and habitat that have not yet been identified.

It is important to take steps to avoid and minimize known and unknown potential impacts.  For more detailed recommendations, check out the Guidelines for Wind Energy and Wildlife Resource Management in Nebraska and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines.

Recommendations to avoid and minimize impacts:

  1. Consult natural resource agencies: The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service know of the locations of species of concern and consulting with these agencies is highly recommended early in the wind energy development planning process. 
     
  2. Siting or determining the location of the wind energy facility is a very important part of avoiding and minimizing potential impacts to wildlife.
     
    • Use the Wind Energy and Nebraska’s Wildlife Map: In Nebraska, the Wind Energy and Nebraska’s Wildlife map shows the relative sensitivity of wildlife habitats to wind energy development based on selected at-risk species, but it was not designed to evaluate wind energy facility siting at specific locations. 
       
    • Site on previously altered landscapes: Siting wind energy facilities on previously altered landscapes and using existing roads and utility corridors can help reduce habitat fragmentation and other potential indirect impacts of wind energy development.    
       
    • Site away from important wildlife and plant habitat: Siting wind energy facilities near areas have been identified as important to fish, wildlife, plants, and/or aesthetics is not recommended; establishing a buffer between these areas and the wind energy facility could help avoid and minimize impacts to wildlife and habitat.  

  3. Turbine and transmission line design and layout can help reduce impacts to wildlife.
     
    • Use free-standing support towers: Free-standing support towers for turbines and meteorological towers can help reduce bird and bat fatalities by minimizing the perch locations compared to lattice support towers and flight hazards associated with guy-wires.
       
    • Space turbines and place parallel to migration routes: Determining the proper spacing and orientation of turbines at a wind energy facility may help reduce avian and bat collisions.
       
    • Bury electric power lines within facility:  To reduce avian mortality, it is recommended that power lines should be buried.  Above ground power lines should be marked with bird flight diverters.
       
    • Use white strobe lights, if required: If lights are required by the FAA, white strobe lights are recommended; the number, intensity, and flashes per minute should be minimized.  Steady-burning lights are not recommended because they have been shown to attract night-migrating birds.

  4. Operational Mitigation can be effective at minimizing bat and bird fatalities.
     
    • Feathering turbine blades below cut-in speed: Bats are more likely to be killed by wind turbines during periods of low wind speed. If the blades are not turning during these wind speeds, bat fatalities can be reduced (Baerwald et al. 2009).
       
    • Raise cut-in speed: By increasing the wind speed in which the turbine blades start to turn, bat fatalities can be reduced.
       
    • Curtail operations during periods of high bird and bat activity: Pausing energy production when there is great danger of bird and/or bat fatalities can be done regularly or in specific instances.
       
    • Develop and maintain an Operational Contingency Plan: Having a plan that outlines when and why turbines will be curtailed can be a valuable tool and is recommended for whooping cranes for almost all wind energy facilities in Nebraska. Plans for other species or species groups, such as waterfowl, would be valuable as well.

  5. Mitigation for permanent impacts (direct and indirect) to native habitats is recommended. Turbines sited on land with row-crops can reduce the money recommended for mitigation.
     

Endangered and Threatened Species in Nebraska

Nebraska has 14 federally and 27 state plant or animal species that are listed as threatened or endangered. Populations of animals or plants can decline due to a variety of factors including, but not limited to, habitat loss or degradation, invasive species, disease, and human-related mortality. There are federal and state programs established to protect endangered and threatened species.

Federal

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the principal federal partner responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act (ESA), federal legislation intended to provide a means to conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend and provide programs for consevation of those species, thus preventing extinction of plants and animals.

The USFWS definitions:

  • Endangered Species - an animal or plant species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
     
  • Threatened Species - an animal or plant species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
     
  • Extinct Species - a species that no longer exists. For ESA, a species currently believed to be extinct.
     
  • Ecosystem - a dynamic and interrelating complex of plant and animal communities and their associated nonliving (such as physical and chemical) environment.

Information from the USFWS Endangered Species Program: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/.

State

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) has an objective to preserve and increase populations of Nebraska's endangered and threatened species of wildlife and plants. Through the NGPC Nongame Program (http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/wildlife/programs/nongame/goals.asp), they strive to build resiliency of Nebraska's ecosystems by enhancing the habitat that wildlife need to survive and to prevent future threatened and endangered species listings. The Nebraska Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act is the Nebraska law that protects listed species. A species may be at-risk of extinction in Nebraska, but not throughout its entire range. Therefore, some species have a state status as endangered or threatened, but may be listed differently under the federal status.

Nebraska endangered and threatened species resources:

Piping Plover. Photo by USFWS.

Piping plover. USFWS image.

Swift Fox. Photo by USFWS.

Swift fox. USFWS image.

Whooping Crane. Photo by USFWS.

Whooping crane. USFWS image.

Nebraska Endangered and Threatened Species

Common Name Scientific Name State Status Federal Status
BIRDS
Eskimo Curlew* Numenius borealis Endangered Endangered
Whooping Crane Grus americana Endangered Endangered
Interior Least Tern Sternula antillarum athalassos Endangered Endangered
Piping Plover Charadrius melodus Threatened Threatened
Mountain Plover Charadrius montanus Threatened  
MAMMALS
Black-footed Ferret* Mustela nigripes Endangered Endangered
Swift Fox Vulpes velox Endangered  
River Otter Lutra canadensis Threatened  
Southern Flying Squirrel Glaucomys volans Threatened  
FISH
Pallid Sturgeon Scaphirhynchus albus Endangered Endangered
Topeka Shiner Notropis topeka Endangered Endangered
Sturgeon Chub Macrhybopsis gelida Endangered  
Blacknose Shiner Notropis heterolepis Endangered  
Lake Sturgeon Acipenser fulvescens Threatened  
Northern Redbelly Dace Phoxinus eos Threatened  
Finescale Dace Phoxinus neogaeus Threatened  
INSECTS
American Burying Beetle Nicrophorus americanus Endangered Endangered
Salt Creek Tiger Beetle Cicindela nevadica lincolniana Endangered Endangered
REPTILES 
Massasauga Sistrurus catenatus Threatened  
MUSSELS 
Scaleshell Mussel Leptodea leptodon Endangered Endangered
PLANTS 
Blowout Penstemon Penstemon haydenii Endangered Endangered
Colorado Butterfly Plant Gaura neomexicana ssp. coloradensis Endangered Threatened
Saltwort Salicornia rubra Endangered  
Western Prairie Fringed Orchid Platanthera praeclara Threatened Threatened
Ute Ladies’-tresses Spiranthes diluvialis Threatened Threatened
American Ginseng Panax quinquefolium Threatened  
Small White Lady’s Slipper Cypripedium candidum Threatened  
* Species of historical occurrence in Nebraska but no known extant populations.

Source: http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/wildlife/programs/nongame/pdf/E_T_Species_List.pdf

 

More information:

http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/wildlife/programs/nongame/Endangered_Threatened.asp- Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

http://www.fws.gov/endangered/- USFWS Endgangered Species Program.

http://www.fws.gov/nebraskaes/T&E%20Species.html- USFWS Nebraska Endangered Species information.

http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/pub/stateListingAndOccurrenceIndividual.jsp?state=NE&s8fid=112761032792&s8fid=112762573902- USFWS Species Reports for listed species found in Nebraska.

Nebraska Natural Legacy Project Logo

Nebraska Natural Legacy Project Logo

 

Tier I Species

Nebraska Natural Legacy Project Tier I Species

The Nebraska Natural Legacy Project

The Nebraska Natural Legacy Project is a science-based blueprint for conserving Nebraska's biological diversity using voluntary, non-regulatory opportunities.

The Legacy Project is Nebraska’s State Wildlife Action Plan, which is part of a nationwide effort involving all 50 states and six territories.

Collaboration with many groups, private landowners and other stakeholders is key to the success of the Natural Legacy Project. A 25 member Partnership Team representing the interests of Nebraska’s conservation, agricultural, and Native American communities guides the planning process.

The goals of the Natural Legacy Project:

  • Reverse the decline of at-risk species (and avoid the need for state or federal listing as threatened or endangered).
  • Recover currently listed species and allow for their de-listing.
  • Keep common species common.
  • Conserve natural communities.

 

At-Risk Species

The Nebraska Natural Legacy Project Science Team developed a two-tiered approach to identifying species that may be at-risk of extinction or extirpation from the state.

  • Tier I - species that are globally or nationally at-risk; includes species currently state or federally listed.
  • Tier II - species that are at-risk in Nebraska, but may be doing well in other parts of their range.

Several at-risk species may be sensitive to wind energy development. Following are a few examples.

Bats:

  • Fringed Myotis (Myotis thysanodes pahasapensis)- Tier I;
  • Townsend’s Big-eared Bats (Corynorhinus townsendii) - Tier II;
  • Long-legged Myotis (Myotis volans) - Tier II;
  • Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) - Tier II (Candidate for Tier I);
  • Evening bats (Nycticeius humeralis) - Tier II;
  • Tricolored bats (Perimyotis subflavus)- Candidate for Tier I
  • Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus) - Candidate for Tier I

Birds:

  • Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido)- Tier I;
  • Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) - Tier I;
  • Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) - Tier I;
  • Peregrine Falcon (Falco mexicanus ) - Tier II;
  • Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) - Tier II.

Terrestrial Animals:

 

Biologically Unique Landscapes

The Nebraska Natural Legacy Project selected landscapes based on known occurrences of natural communities and at-risk species to meet set goals for each community type and certain at-risk species.

A set of landscapes were determined that offer some of the best opportunities for conserving the full array of biological diversity in Nebraska. Over thirty landscapes across the state were designated Biologically Unique Landscapes and are shaded green on the map below.

Biologically Unique Landscapes in Nebraska

Nebraska Natural Legacy Project: Biologically Unique Landscapes

For more information about Biologically Unique Landscapes and the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project visit: http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/wildlife/programs/legacy/.

Regional Habitat Conservation Plans and Environmental Impact Statements

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) prohibits the "take" of listed species through direct harm or habitat destruction.

In 1982, an amendment was made to the ESA that authorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue permits for "incidental take" of endangered and threatened wildlife species.

The amendment requires that permit applicants design, implement, and secure funding for a conservation plan, commonly called a Habitat Conservation Plan, that minimizes and mitigates harm to the impacted species during the proposed project.

There are currently two regional projects that include Nebraska.

For more information visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Permits website: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/permits/hcp/index.html.

 

 

Great Plains Wind Energy Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)

Nineteen wind energy companies, known as the Wind Energy Whooping Crane Action group or "WEWAG", are developing this regional HCP.

The HCP covers a 200-mile wide corridor across nine states (see map to left).

The HCP is looking at the potential impacts of wind energy development and operation on:

  • Whooping Crane (Grus americana), endangered species;
  • Interior Least Tern (Sterna antillarum athalassos), endangered species;
  • Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus), endangered species;
  • Lesser Prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus), a candidate species.

"This EIS process gives us an opportunity to evaluate the impacts to dozens of imperiled species at a landscape level to ensure that wind energy development occurs in the right places in the right way," Dan Ashe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ecological Services Great Plains Wind Energy Fact Sheet: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/Documents/R2ES/Wind/Species_FactSheet.pdf.

Great Plains Wind Energy Habitat Conservation Plan webpage: http://www.greatplainswindhcp.org/index.cfm.

 

 

Upper Great Plains Wind Energy Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS)

Western Area Power Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will prepare a PEIS to evaluate the impacts of wind energy development in Western's Upper Great Plains Region.

The PEIS will consider wind energy projects that would connect with Western Area Power Administration's transmission system in their Upper Great Plains Customer Service Region

Areas included are all or parts of:

  • Iowa
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota

Areas also include the Service's grasslands and wetland easements in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

This PEIS will identify mitigation strategies, standard construction practices, best management practices (BMPs)and establish a comprehensive environmental program for evaluating future projects.

Draft Upper Great Plains Wind Energy PEIS is available at http://plainswindeis.anl.gov/documents/dpeis/index.cfm

Upper Great Plains Wind Energy Programmatic EIS webpage: http://plainswindeis.anl.gov/index.cfm