Wind power and wildlife don't mix


Montana ranks fifth in wind energy potential in the U.S., with an estimated capacity of 116,000 megawatts over 17 million windy acres. To date, the state has installed less than 300 MW of wind power, but more projects are underway.

Hoping to "spark cooperative efforts between wind energy and conservation interests, so that the promise of renewable energy can be achieved without sacrificing Montana's cultural, aesthetic, or biological heritage," The Nature Conservancy has released a 54-page study ("Ecological Risk Assessment of Wind Energy Development in Montana") cataloguing the most susceptible species in the state's windiest areas, urging that developers avoid nearly 8 million acres deemed "high-risk to ecological values."

The study says:

Montana is home to extensive intact habitats, retaining much of the species
and viewsheds first documented by European explorers.  It contains some of the largest,
intact grasslands remaining in North America and more mixed-grass prairie than any
other state in the Great Plains.  It also retains extensive examples of montane coniferous
forest systems that today support the most complete carnivore assemblages in the lower
48 states.  Compared to most of the West, it has some of the least developed
intermountain valleys.  It also is home to the nation’s longest free-flowing river and
harbors high quality aquatic and riparian habitats across the state.  

Examining a range of species -- including birds, bats, deer, antelope, elk and grizzly bears -- the study notes that:

Both gas development and wind farms are characterized by extensive
road developments that fragment habitat and increase potential of vehicle collisions. 
Vertical structures, transmission lines, and turbines may decrease survival or reproductive
success as a result of collisions and creation of habitat for predators.  Additionally, the
structures themselves may alter habitat suitability, resulting in abandonment.  One
apparent example of this was documented in Idaho, where 8 meteorological towers, 30 to
150 feet in height and topped with anemometers, were installed to measure wind velocity
for a commercial wind power feasibility study.  Over a period of five years, 7 of 9 sage
grouse leks were abandoned and the overall population declined about 75%.

The study concludes that optimum places for wind development include 4 million acres already under cultivation. "Very few species use cropland," the study's author, Brian Martin, told the Great Falls Tribune. Another 5 million acres that have already been fragmented and developed also pose relatively low risk to the 30 species named in the study.

Finally, the study emphasizes that "wind energy development will ultimately need to be considered in terms of the cumulative effects.  The sum of the parts will most likely be greater than each project considered individually."

For a look at how the siting of wind farms impacts the human species, see Wind Setbacks.


Wind power and the environment
Jon Geissiner
Jon Geissiner
Feb 28, 2009 06:19 AM
I LOVE to hear all the people complain about what species we will loose, what we will impact with 'green' energy, how the bats, birds and other animals will suffer, but the BEST complaint is the 'visual' impact that will likely occur if something like a wind generator is erected on the peak of a mountain or a wind farm is built on the prarie.
The thing that concerns ME is what about the HUMAN species? We are FAST making ourselves extinct! The Earth, Mother Nature, God if you will, has gone through more species that we will ever know or be able to even count or discover. We have the ability to make ourselves extinct and we are worried about a small rodent or some migrating birds?
LETS build more nuclear plants so that we can address the comfort of the tree huggers and environmentalists that want to preserve the appearance of some forsaken location instead of building a wind farm that has ZERO long term effect.
LETS cut the top off another mountain to gain access to more 'clean coal' (not unlike other oxymoronic phrases like 'military intellegence').
LETS pound some large metal spikes into more tree trunks so that some wacko can go home to his log cabin and injure more hard working people trying to make a living.
You want whining?
We are CLOSE to having to build atmospheric processors to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Talk about ugly machinery and a HUGE tax cost to save HUMANITY. Fathom that environmentalists and tree huggers?
We are CLOSE to having a REAL disaster with another nuclear plant, making Chernobol look like an ant hill on the face of a mountain.
You want to save the whales, save the wolves, save some species of bird?? YOU are the endangered species; we will the ones suffering from our own stupidity; the first species that is actually able to cause it's own extinction.
We will either adopt clean energy in a fast way, or there will be more wars of epic scale, more polution that we cannot control or clean up, and lead ourselves down a path to destruction of not ONLY your precious endangered species, but ourselves as well.
Get out of your comfy environment and get in touch with reality.
Candice Fitches
Candice Fitches
Mar 01, 2009 10:46 AM
Jon Geissiner, I have several points to make about your rant.
First I would like to say that humans are in no way endangered. Our current population is at 6.7 billion people with a new 220,000 people everyday including deaths.
Second I know very few environmentalists, or tree huggers for that matter that are for Nuclear Power since the entire process of creating nuclear energy is anything but green.
Third, if the wind mills affect the wildlife around them, how is that considerd to have "ZERO long term effects"?
Fourth, As for the metal spikes I assume you are reffering to monkey wrenching. Please do not group all environmentalists and monkey wrenchers into one group. Most environmentalists know violence solves little.
And last, Your ranting is hard to read and Im not sure when you are being sarcastic or serious. Might want to clarify your points.
Way off the mark!!!
Mar 02, 2009 01:19 PM
First, human's aren't even close to becoming extinct (as someone else already pointed out), second, it's mighty presumptuous to think that human's trump all other species in importance as far as the health of the earth goes. Human's could be wiped clean from the planet and the earth would be far better off. We on the other hand, wouldn't last long if there were mass extinctions of even "small rodents or some migrating birds" which you seem to think play an inconsequential roll on earth! This shows your complete lack of understanding of basic ecological principals!!! Thirdly, there is a grave difference between the historical extinction of species caused by natural processes over millions of years and those caused by the poor decisions of humanity over a significantly small period of time! Your conscience may not bother you in this regard, but mine sure as h@#ll bothers me!!
Matthew Bullard
Matthew Bullard
Mar 01, 2009 03:29 PM
It is wise to consider the effects of wind turbines on the local ecology. But is it not also wise to consider the effects on my millions more species of the continued use of fossil fuels to generate our power? As always, this are tradeoffs.
wind impacts
Mar 02, 2009 09:37 AM
Oh my gosh, you mean renewable energy development also impacts the environment? What a surprise. I thought everyone knew there’s no free lunch when it comes to energy. Let’s have a realistic discussion about our energy future and the various tradeoffs. Our long term plans must include a plethora of sources, as we will need them all in a peak oil world.
Amen on that
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Mar 02, 2009 08:25 PM
We need to talk both sides of the equation. If a place like Germany can build zero-heat houses, that are that well insulated, doing that in Montana would abate the need for all sorts of energy consumption.
One minor gripe ...
jeanne moe
jeanne moe
Mar 02, 2009 10:32 AM
TNC should know that the Yellowstone is not "the nation's" longest free-flowing river -- as there's a significant TNC presence in Alaska, where there are MANY longer and freer-flowing rivers. Also, IMHO, any such claim about the Yellowstone should describe it as "undammed" - not "free-flowing" - as I'm not really seeing a rip-rap and ag water diversion-infested river as "free-flowing."