New wind energy production facilities are being build to accommodate demands for more, renewable, emission-free energy. This development is most often in windy, remote parts of the United States, so new transmission infrastructure capacity is also needed for shipment of energy from prairies, hilltops and shorelines to distant population centres.
Well known environmental effects from wind energy development have included direct mortality to birds and bats. However, there is a more subtle effect also at play. "Habitat fragmentation" is an impact caused by the siting and presence of infrastructure features on wildlife species. Instead of direct mortality, there is behavioural avoidance of such features because of activity, noise and even simply the presence of vertical structure that are different from the original nature of the habitat. This fragmentation threatens to make some of the last remaining habitat for declining species, especially grassland birds, usable by them.
Prairie grouse such as prairie chickens and sage grouse appear to be particularly susceptible to habitat fragmentation due to the presence of vertical structure. Other species such as the grasshopper sparrow have also been shown to avoid such features. It is believed that these species have evolved to avoid any vertical structure because it can serve as a perch for bird-eating raptors, including eagles, hawks, falcon, and owls. Certain life cycle stages, such as nesting and chick rearing, appear to be most vulnerable to these fragmentation influences.
Some of the research contributing to concern over habitat fragmentation, along with the mechanism of such fragmentation, will be presented. Solutions will also be offered for the siting of wind energy facilities and transmission lines to avoid this negative environmental impact.