Because the proposed wind power project spans an approximately 50/50 combination of private land and federal land managed by BLM, the project is being reviewed in an Environmental Impact Statement. In July 2008, the BLM Rawlins Field Office published a Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS to analyze the environmental consequences of the project. The Final EIS was published by BLM in July 2012.
The project supports the strategy set out in BLM’s Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Wind Energy Development “of extracting the maximum potential wind energy from a given site [which] will minimize the overall environmental impacts.”
Power Company of Wyoming aims to set the standard for the development of renewable resources in an environmentally responsible manner on federal and private lands. Since 2008, PCW has been collecting wildlife data throughout the wind development areas of the ranch to support the BLM-led Environmental Impact Statement process, which is the highest level of environmental analysis applied under the National Environmental Policy Act.
But in addition, PCW has proactively moved forward with programs to both better understand wildlife habitats and use across the entire 500-square-mile Overland Trail Ranch and to implement advanced conservation measures that will avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts to the ranch's wildlife and ecosystems. The company retained industry-leading environmental consultants and biologists to help it develop and implement this comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy.
Major efforts undertaken by PCW along with the Overland Trail Ranch include a comprehensive wildlife conservation plan and an avian and bat monitoring and protection plan. These science-based plans will protect wildlife on the ranch and are anticipated to provide a conservation uplift for many of the species potentially impacted by wind energy development.
The comprehensive conservation plan is designed to conserve greater sage-grouse populations on the ranch as well as other sagebrush obligates potentially impacted by wind energy development. This is largely possible because ample land and water resources on the Overland Trail Ranch provide the flexibility to enhance and conserve 500 square miles of sage-grouse habitat. The best sage-grouse habitat will not be affected by wind energy development. PCW will not develop wind energy in designated sage-grouse core areas.
At the same time, the conservation plan will continue to accommodate ongoing ranching and agricultural operations. Yet conserving sage-grouse and enhancing the sagebrush ecosystem is a primary objective for how this land will be managed today and in the future. This approach was developed after performing a detailed assessment of threats to sage-grouse and identifying conservation measures to eliminate or minimize these threats. PCW’s environmental consultants also have completed extensive vegetation and habitat mapping field work, as well as gathered a wealth of other biological data.
Of particular interest, starting in early 2010, a robust sage-grouse monitoring effort has been implemented to evaluate habitat use and population characteristics of these birds. Activities of approximately 150 male and female sage-grouse have been identified through the use of state-of-the-art telemetry including small, lightweight GPS tags attached to the sage-grouse. Biologists are using and will use the data to:
Coupled with PCW's conservation measures, this science-based monitoring program will ensure PCW is achieving its goal of a net conservation benefit to sage-grouse.
PCW is working to develop wind resources in a manner consistent with the conservation of avian and bat species as well. A comprehensive, science-based avian and bat monitoring approach – which combines avian radar technology and traditional monitoring methods – is being used to better identify usage and patterns. Results from the monitoring program will allow PCW to identify the most appropriate conservation practices to avoid, minimize and mitigate potential risks to avian and bat species.
Here are the six major elements of PCW's monitoring protocols and the conservation plan development approach.
Finally, an Eagle Conservation Plan (ECP) and a Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy (BBCS) are being developed to identify measures that will be taken to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts to all avian and bat species. Data collected as part of the above surveys will be used to identify the measures that will be taken to conserve avian and bat species.
In addition to raptors, bats and sage-grouse, PCW's comprehensive conservation plan will promote conservation of many other wildlife and fish species in the project area. PCW isactively working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Wyoming Game and Fish Department to identify and implement appropriate conservation measures. Since many species are dependent on the same or similar habitats, conservation actions directed towards one species will benefit others as well.