Colorado’s Eastern Plains are a bit safer for prairie chickens – lesser and greater – and a spate of other animals and plants as the result of a unique partnership between conservation groups and the wind industry.
The product of that collaboration is a set of voluntary “best-management practices” to be used in siting and building wind farms in Colorado.
Over the past three years, five environmental groups and 10 wind developers, working as the Colorado Renewable & Conservation Collaborative, developed the practices.
“The aim was to make conservation credible and business viable,” said William Burnidge, the Nature Conservancy’s Colorado grassland coordinator.
The best-management practices are designed to reduce impacts on about 12 species and ecosystems. They cover issues such as limiting work during mating seasons and avoiding rare plants and wetlands.
“It helps identify potential issues before a project starts, when it is easier to talk to stakeholders,” said Craig Cox, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance.
“What industry really wants is predictability, some certainty,” said Cox, who was a member of the collaborative.
BP Wind Energy, NextEra Energy and other wind developers participated, as did five conservation groups, including Audubon Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.
Among the animals, plants and ecosystems that fall under the practices are:
Bats – several species found in Colorado, such as big brown bats and hoary bats – have been killed at U.S. wind projects. Best practices include using acoustical deterrents.
Mountain plovers, which could face increased mortality if wind turbines are placed on the barren grassland and near the prairie-dog colonies the bird uses as nesting sites.
Playas – the 7,200 round, shallow, clay-lined wetlands found throughout the short- and mixed-grass prairie in Colorado —
Burrowing owl (Denver Post file)
are used by waterfowl. Best practices call for avoiding large playa complexes.
Greater prairie chickens and lesser prairie chickens. Although neither bird flies high enough to be threatened by wind turbines, they need large swatches of unfragmented habitat.
The best practices “demonstrate that the wind-energy industry and the environmental community can effectively work together,” Joe Grennan, director of permitting for wind developer RES Americas, said in an e-mail.
Celia Greenman, northeast region energy coordinator for the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, monitored the negotiations for the state.
“It really made clear not only what needed to be conserved but what was needed to move a project along,” Greenman said. While the best practices remain voluntary, she said they will become a starting point when the division reviews wind projects.
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