A seven-year study headed by Kansas State University Professor of Biology Brett Sandercock revealed wind turbine sites do not have a significant effect on greater prairie chicken populations.
Wind turbine placement has been a subject of debate in the past, especially in the Flint Hills. Sandercock’s team represented the interests of multiple groups, including conservationists, wildlife agencies and wind energy companies. The goal was to determine the effects that wind turbine development had on Kansas’ grassland birds.
“We had a lot of buy-in from stakeholders and we had an effective oversight committee,” said Sandercock. “The research will certainly aid with wind power site guidelines and with the development of mitigation strategies to enhance habitat conditions for the greater prairie chicken.”
After studying several development sites around Kansas, the team saw an interesting development. After turbines were placed in an area, female survival rates increased. Sandercock believes this may be because predators tend to avoid areas with wind turbines.
“What’s quite typical for these birds is most of the demographic losses are driven by predation. We can say that with confidence,” Sandercock said. “What’s a little unclear from our results is whether that increase in female survivorship was due to the effects of wind turbines on predators.”
The team of researchers will be conducting follow-up studies, but for the time being, it seems Kansas may be able to further develop wind energy sites across grasslands, without the threat of further endangering greater prairie chicken populations.
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