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Nebraska Wind and Wildlife

Nebraska Wind & Wildlife|Teaming with Wildlife| Wildlife Species|A Check for Wildlife|Wildlife Habitat| Project Wild|

Wind energy is seen as a “green” energy source because during the operation of a wind energy facility there are no emissions of greenhouse gases or other pollutants.  According to data published by the United States Department of Energy for 2010, Nebraska ranks third nationally in terms of wind resources to generate electrical energy, with wind energy potential to produce over 3.5 million gigawatts per year.  With much open land, low population densities in areas where wind turbines are likely to be placed, and relatively high average wind velocities, Nebraska seems destined to be a national focal point for wind energy development and exportation.  However, no energy source has yet been found to be without some degree of environmental costs and wind energy is no exception.

Direct impacts occur when birds and bats collide with wind turbines, towers, or transmission lines servicing wind farms.  Recent studies show direct impacts may increase significantly when turbines are placed in or very near major migration corridors, such as mountain passes, large river valleys, and saddles or the edge of ridge-tops and bluffs or at stopover sites such as wetlands along migration routes.  In Nebraska the Central Flyway hosts an unusually high concentration of migratory birds each spring and fall, and given the rarity of some species, like the whooping crane, the mortality of a few individuals would have a significant negative impact on the species’ population. For these reasons, direct impacts are of greater concern in portions of Nebraska than in other Midwestern states.

Indirect impacts (e.g., habitat loss and degradation from wind farms and their associated infrastructure) represent an environmental cost that may be greater than direct impacts, especially in the grasslands of the Great Plains.  Loss of habitat due to conversion of natural communities to roads, tower sites, and other wind farm infrastructure affects all species in the impacted area, including plants and non-flying animals that are not subject to turbine collision mortality.  Loss of habitat also occurs when certain species are displaced from otherwise suitable habitat near a turbine because they avoid vertical features or anthropogenic structures in grasslands.  These avoidance behaviors could result in a large area of intact grassland becoming fragmented into smaller use areas, each fragment being too small to sustain a population of that species over the long term.  

Few studies have addressed the long-term (more than five years post-construction) effects of wind farms or cumulative impacts that several wind farms in close proximity may have on native species.  Preliminary studies indicate these items may negatively impact birds; however, more research is needed to evaluate the magnitude of these impacts.  Since grassland birds as a group have suffered the steepest declines in population over the past 30 years among all North American birds, and given that Nebraska is home to some of the largest, least degraded grasslands in the Great Plains, habitat loss and degradation from widely distributed wind farms poses a credible and potentially large environmental cost in our state.

The Nebraska Wind and Wildlife Map was designed to aid in planning for wind power development by identifying areas that are considered relatively more sensitive or less sensitive to such development, with respect to species of concern. This map does not serve as an environmental review, as even in “low sensitivity” areas shown, there will be specific locations where siting of wind power infrastructure can negatively impact significant biological resources (e.g., remnant tallgrass prairie, listed plant species, etc.). Contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for potential site-specific impacts and potential conservation measures to avoid “take” under the state Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act and the federal Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

The Guidelines for Wind Energy and Wildlife Resource Management in Nebraska (Guidelines) were created to identify environmental concerns that should be considered during the wind energy development process.  These Guidelines are a set of non-regulatory statewide recommendations designed to help developers assess and minimize potential environmental impacts that could result from development of wind energy facilities.  However, not all recommendations will be applicable to all wind energy development projects, which are reviewed and discussed on a project-by-project basis.

Mitigation Guidelines for Wind Energy Development in Nebraska is one in a series of statewide, non-regulatory guidance documents created to assist wind energy developers with determining approximate mitigation costs which may be associated with developing a specific site.  The document is currently in working draft format. All comments submitted to windwildlife@unl.edu in the next six months will be compiled, and updates will be made in April 2015.

As birds are potentially more vulnerable to impacts from wind development than other non-volant species the Avian Assessment Guidance for Wind Energy Facilities in Nebraska (updated 2-24, 2012 to v3.01 – Draft) was developed.  An avian assessment is a key component for evaluating the risk of impacts of wind energy facilities on Nebraska’s birds.  This document provides information and technical guidance to assist wind energy project proponents with conducting an avian assessment that meets standards and expectations developed by staff of the NGPC and the USFWS Nebraska Field Office.

Nebraska Partnership for All-Bird Conservation

For additional information about developing wind energy in Nebraska, please contact:

Michelle Koch, Environmental Analyst Supervisor, NGPC: 402-471-5438

Martha Carlisle, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, USFWS: 308-382-6468

Caroline Jezierski, Wind Energy and Wildlife Coordinator, Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, (402) 472-8188

*Information on this website, maps and supporting documentation do not reflect the position of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission on wind development, but rather provide information of potential wildlife impacts.

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