Environmental Science Division (EVS) a Division of Argonne National Laboratory
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Impacts of Wind Energy Development on the Greater Sage-Grouse

EVS developed a model for examining the cumulative impacts of wind energy development on the greater sage-grouse.

EVS staff members have developed a spatially explicit, individual-based model for examining the cumulative impacts of wind energy development on populations and habitat of the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus)—a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Model development was initiated with funding from DOE's Wind and Water Power Program.

Concern over the sustainability of sage-grouse populations in the face of increasing development has led to widespread restrictions on development in the species' core areas, but an incomplete understanding of the birds' response to the development of wind farms and other structures could lead to unnecessary or ineffective restrictions. The EVS work is intended to facilitate smart development that minimizes impact by synthesizing available information into a predictive model.

The sage-grouse has an unusual, complex life history that includes seasonal migrations. Local disruption of any part of the annual cycle could result in long-term impacts in a wider portion of the species range. To improve understanding of the possible effects of wind energy projects and other impacts on populations, the EVS model incorporates the species' requirements and movements.

In September 2012, Argonne published a report describing the modeling approach and its application in Albany County, Wyoming (PDF, 12.3 MB). Albany County currently supports important populations of greater sage-grouse and has high potential for wind energy development. This early model prototype demonstrated the utility of the approach in assessing direct, indirect, and cumulative effects by modeling changes in habitat suitability, reproduction, and survivorship of individual birds.

Since the 2012 report appeared, the model has been refined to incorporate the latest sage-grouse research. EVS has demonstrated that the model can evaluate mitigation scenarios including avoidance, minimization, and compensation; incorporate other land use changes to assess cumulative impacts; and be expanded for application to the entire state of Wyoming.

With this tool, users will be able determine the proximate causes of sage-grouse population changes (e.g., changes in survivorship, reproduction, and habitat suitability). This information can be used in designing improved mitigation strategies.

Modeled effect of two wind development scenarios that differ only in location. The impact of scenario 2 is much lower than that of scenario 1, because scenario 1 has both direct and indirect effects on the population, while scenario 2 only has a direct effect.
Modeled effect of two wind development scenarios that differ only in location. The impact of scenario 2 is much lower than that of scenario 1, because scenario 1 has both direct and indirect effects on the population, while scenario 2 only has a direct effect. 

Future work will focus on incorporating the latest information on habitat suitability, sage-grouse biology, and wind development effects. Argonne also plans to develop the model into a fully functioning, user-friendly tool that land management agencies, planners, developers, and other stakeholders can use to evaluate the effects of wind development on this critically important wildlife species. Moreover, this new approach can be adapted to address other species and management questions.

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photo of Kirk LaGory
Senior Program Manager, Ecological Resources and Systems
Capabilities: Research, analysis, and modeling of human impacts on ecological resources and systems; mitigation and monitoring of impacts on habitats and species populations.