Wind-power development has substantially increased in the last decade in Portugal and associated structures mostly overlap with wolf range, which raises major conservation concerns as a potential source of disturbance to this endangered carnivore. However, a comprehensive evaluation is greatly hampered by difficulties in studying wolf ecology and current lack of knowledge on the impacts of wind energy development on non-flying animals, especially large mammals. A research program was initiated in 2006, to: i) establish a methodological protocol for assessing impacts and monitoring wolf ecological responses to wind farms; ii) evaluate potential effects of wind farms on wolf space use and reproduction; iii) apply efficient mitigation and compensation measures. Field methods are based on howling and sign surveys, scat quantification through abundance indices and GPS telemetry.
Preliminary results demonstrate that: i) road network built for wind-power development lead to a considerable increase in traffic, especially during construction of wind farms; ii) wolves continue to use areas with wind farms; iii) wolf presence tends to decrease with the cumulative number of turbines; iv) spatial responses of wolves to wind farms appear to depend on the number and proximity of turbines to important pack homesites and prey availability; v) wolves abandon or do not regularly use breeding sites located in the proximity of wind turbines; vi) wolves select breeding places at a lower altitude after wind farm construction, as a response to related disturbance in mountain ridges. Wind farms induce important changes in wolf space use, selection of and fidelity to reproduction sites and reproductive success. These behavioural and spatial responses may constrain connectivity within and between pack territories and increase reproductive instability, especially in already highly humanized landscapes as Portugal. Based on these findings, several preventive mitigation measures have been applied during EIA and pre- and post-construction of wind farms.