South Dakota

Wind Power that Keeps Wildlife in Mind

In the search for sustainable forms of “green” energy, wind may seem like an obvious choice in the open, expansive grasslands of South Dakota. Wind energy is a valuable alternative energy source capable of slowing the pace of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But from a conservation perspective, its impact on wildlife and habitat needs to be considered.

Wind energy facilities and their access roads can fragment native prairies into smaller sections, displacing prairie birds and other animals that need large, contiguous grasslands for food, nesting cover and protection from predators. Research indicates that some grassland birds are particularly sensitive to disturbance and have an aversion to tall structures like transmission towers that serve as perches for raptors.

The trend to construct taller turbines may also pose an increased collision risk to birds migrating at night or to bats that find their way by sonar rather than by sight. The Conservancy is working cooperatively with The Wildlife Society and other partners to develop guidelines and regulations for commercial wind energy facilities in South Dakota. Avoiding the placement of turbines in known bird migration corridors and in high quality habitat are effective ways to reduce collisions and protect wildlife habitat.

The Conservancy supports the development and implementation of technologies and strategies that effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reduce climate change. These facilities, if properly sited and operated to prevent adverse effects on plants and animals, can be a valuable part of a multifaceted strategy to accomplish this objective.