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Report examines ways to improve predictions of wildlife impacts at wind energy facilities

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A new report from Dovetail Partners examines strategies for increasing the availability of data used in making wildlife impact predictions at proposed wind energy facilities.

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The report, "Barriers and Opportunities for Post-construction Wildlife Monitoring at Wind Energy Facilities in the Great Lakes Region," describes results from a survey of wind energy stakeholders. It also includes a review of the different ways in which state agencies are assessing wildlife impacts from wind energy development.

"So far, research shows that wind energy facilities overall have much less of an impact on wildlife than many other human activities," says Dr. Sarah Stai, Associate Ecologist with Dovetail Partners and lead author on the report. "But some site-specific impacts to wildlife have caused concern. If we can keep impacts low even as more turbines dot the landscape, then it will be a win-win for everyone - wind industry professionals, state agencies, and the wildlife themselves."

The key is having enough understanding of impacts at existing facilities, so that future facilities can be sited and designed to minimize impacts. That understanding has been limited, in part, by a reluctance to make wildlife monitoring data available outside of project teams.

Until recently, the knowledge base of wildlife impacts has also been muddied by a lack of consistency in monitoring protocols. "We were surprised - and pleased - to see how many projects have been using the newly final U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines, even as they were in draft form," says Deborah Pile, Director of Energy Facilities Permitting at the Minnesota Department of Commerce, which funded the survey. "Having a standardized approach is beneficial both in terms of permitting and from a scientific perspective."

According to Jamie Schrenzel, Energy Project Planner at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), "One of the interesting results was that agencies may be assuming certain barriers to data collection and data sharing are important to project developers, when in fact other barriers are of greater concern to developers." The Minnesota DNR is a funding partner on the project.

"Although it may be common knowledge that monitoring costs and concerns about negative publicity and legal liability can inhibit data collection and sharing, it is important to quantify barriers if they are to be overcome. Our survey results highlight how tools such as financial subsidies and confidential data repositories have the potential to protect wildlife while supporting development of wind energy," concludes Katie Fernholz, Dovetail's Executive Director.

Read the full report here: http://dovetailinc.org/files/DovetailWindWildlife1112.pdf

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