Landscape Assessment and Siting Practices to Address Risk to Wildlife and Habitat

There are many constraints wind energy developers must consider when siting a new wind project, including several factors unrelated to wildlife that limit the area where a wind facility can be built. For wildlife considerations, the first and in some cases the best opportunities to avoid and minimize impacts occur during the earliest stages of wind energy project siting: screening prospective project sites and documenting potential wildlife and habitat impacts. Pre-construction surveys and studies inform project design and provide a baseline for post-construction studies monitoring for wildlife fatalities. In some cases, project design – the micro-siting of turbines and other infrastructure – can help to minimize collision risk. Landscape assessment and siting are key to avoiding or minimizing habitat-based impacts.
Siting Constraints for Wind Energy - Infographic by AWWI

Landscape-Level and Site Screening Studies

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Existing maps and databases can be used during the site prospecting phase to identify potential areas of high sensitivity, including migratory pathways, large blocks of intact landscapes or ecological resources, or habitat used by fragmentation-sensitive species. Once the focus has narrowed, potential project sites can be characterized to determine the presence of protected or threatened species and critical habitat. Site screening may provide sufficient evidence to either proceed without further study if there is low probability of adverse impacts, proceed with on-the-ground assessments where more information is needed, or abandon the site in question if there is a high probability of major adverse impacts that cannot be mitigated sufficiently.

Documenting Site Wildlife and Habitat Resources

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In most cases, site screening raises issues or questions that require more detailed field studies to document the presence, relative abundance, and behavior of species of concern and to quantify potential project impacts. These field studies serve three purposes: (1) to determine whether to proceed with project development; (2) to identify measures that might be taken to avoid or minimize adverse impacts; and (3) to determine whether post-construction monitoring may be warranted, and if warranted, to develop the pre-construction studies needed to establish a baseline for post-construction evaluation of impacts.

Siting to Reduce Risk

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Improving our understanding of risk factors can inform whether and how project siting can help minimize collision and habitat-based impacts for certain species. The placement of turbines during project design offers opportunities to site individual turbines away from landscape features that may influence activity of certain birds and bats, thus reducing collision risk. Siting wind energy facilities on land that has already been transformed by human activity, such as agricultural land, and avoiding landscapes that offer high-quality habitat for species of concern may help avoid or minimize adverse habitat-based impacts.


Minimizing Collision Risk to Wildlife During Operations