Prairie Grouse and Wind Energy: The State of the Science And Implications for Risk Assessment

How to shape the anticipated build-out of industrial-scale renewable energy in a way that minimizes risk to wildlife remains contentious. This challenge is well-illustrated in the grasslands and shrub-steppe of North America. Here, several endemic species of grouse are the focus of intensive, long-term conservation action by a host of governmental and non-governmental entities, many of whom are now asking: will anticipated increases in the number of wind-energy facilities exacerbate declines or prevent recovery of these species? To help answer this question, we synthesized the potential consequences of wind-energy development on prairie grouse. Published literature on behavior or demography of prairie-grouse at wind-energy facilities is sparse, with studies having been conducted at only five different facilities in the United States. Only two of these studies met the standard for robust impact analysis by collecting pre-construction data and using control sites or gradient designs. Published results from only one of the species – Greater Prairie-Chicken – were available for >1 facility. Most studies also drew conclusions based on short (<4 years) periods of study. Given these caveats, we found that, in the short-term, adult survival and nest success appear largely unaffected in populations exposed to wind- energy facilities. However, changes in habitat use by female Greater Sage-Grouse and female Greater Prairie-Chicken during some seasons and reduced lek persistence among male Greater Prairie-Chickens near wind turbines suggest behavioral responses that may have demographic consequences. Prairie grouse can coexist with wind-energy facilities in some cases, at least in the short term, but important uncertainties remain, including the potential for long-term, cumulative effects of the extensive development expected as states attempt to meet goals for generating electricity from renewable sources.



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