Wind energy is one of the fastest-growing forms of electricity development in the United States, and installed wind energy capacity in Wyoming has increased fifteenfold in the past decade. Wind is regarded as a “green energy” resource because it does not directly produce carbon dioxide emissions or other air pollutants, uses minimal amounts of water, and is renewable. However, like other forms of industrial development it is not without potential impacts to habitats and wildlife populations. Wind facilities, with their associated human activity and infrastructure including access roads, meteorological towers, transmission lines, and power substations can affect wildlife directly through habitat loss and turbine collisions. They also can impact wildlife indirectly by causing displacement or avoidance of habitat.
As more wind facilities are constructed in Wyoming and across the nation, site-specific and cumulative impacts to wildlife are increasingly a concern. Wildlife mitigation is the sequential process of (1) avoiding impacts when possible, (2) minimizing remaining impacts, and (3) compensating for unavoidable impacts. Mitigation for impacts to wildlife and habitat is an emerging field for the wind industry and is not well defined. is primer draws from scientific, working, and statutory knowledge to provide a survey of current wildlife mitigation practices for wind energy projects both in Wyoming and outside the state and explore what might be next for wildlife mitigation and wind as development moves increasingly to federal lands and may be subject to increased permitting and mitigation requirements.
As the wind industry is relatively young, there is little known about how wind facilities impact most species of wildlife other than birds and bats that are at risk of turbine collision. is, in turn, has led regulators and industry to focus on implementing avoidance and minimization measures to prevent or lessen direct impacts to avian species and bats. Careful siting, turbine design, and not developing in sensitive habitats are common avoidance measures, while seasonal restrictions, lighting decisions, use of wildlife deterrents, and curtailment can help minimize impacts.
Even with the use of comprehensive avoidance and minimization measures, impacts to wildlife can still occur, and the last step of the mitigation hierarchy is to compensate for these impacts. Compensatory mitigation is relatively rare for wind developments, primarily because there is lile regulatory structure requiring or guiding compensation for wind–wildlife impacts. Projects across the country that have engaged in this third stage of mitigation have done so primarily through voluntarily purchases of replacement habitat via conservation easements or providing in-lieu fees to fund compensatory mitigation projects.
A possible next step in wind–wildlife mitigation is to engage in landscape-scale planning to strategically outline priority mitigation activities and address cumulative impacts from wind development. Developing meaningful metrics to both determine the amount of mitigation needed and measure if mitigation activities are meeting goals may help regulators and industry move toward effective wind–wildlife mitigation practices. Wyoming with its abundant wind energy and wildlife resources has the potential to be a leader in this field.