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Workshop to explore wind power development and effects on wildlife

With the Panhandle targeted for increased wind power development, many landowners already have signed or are considering signing contracts with energy companies. But questions remain, especially about wildlife.

The Panhandle Wind and Wildlife Conference on Aug. 8-9 at the Ambassador Hotel in Amarillo is aimed at answering some of those questions. The event is being organized by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Wildlife Association.

Ken Cearley, AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist, said Texas leads the nation in wind power development according to the American Wind Energy Association's rankings report.

The Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Taylor and Nolan counties was the single largest wind farm in operation in the nation in 2007, Cearley said. With four of the five largest U.S. wind farms now located in Texas, it is necessary to study the impact on wildlife.

“We have information from California wind farms that have been in business for 20 years or so that shows minimal numbers of birds killed by the blades of wind turbines,” he said.

But other questions remain, such as the impact on:

– Bat populations and movements (bats are important plant pollinators).

– Waterfowl movements and survival through the Central Flyway, which includes the Texas Panhandle and channels migratory birds north and south seasonally.

– Wildlife survival and reproduction in both the installation phase and long term.

Additionally, and maybe most important to some landowners, is how will land values be affected, Cearley said. Will real estate values drop with wind turbines on the land, disrupting the view and the peace and quiet, which so many of today's buyers cherish and are willing to pay large sums for? Will grazing and wildlife leases lose value?

“If I were a landowner being presented with this opportunity, it would be tempting, but I would want to give it a long hard look before deciding, and weigh all of the pros and cons,” he said. “The added income might allow some landowners to keep the ranch for years to come, avoiding having to sell due to financial constraints or estate taxes.”

Large ranches are often broken up into smaller parcels, fragmenting ownership with each subsequent sale and the further division makes it progressively more difficult to manage for wildlife, Cearley said.

The added income could finance habitat improvement work and relieve financial pressure that might be leading to heavy stocking rates and subsequent detrimental effects on wildlife, such as a lack of sufficient nesting and fawning cover, he said.

“Like a good bird dog easing toward the scent of a covey from downwind, landowners should approach wind energy income opportunities with all their faculties alert and check out all of the possible ramifications before making a decision that will likely be with you for a long time,” Cearley said.

The fee is $60 with pre-registration by July 15 and $75 after. To register, contact Kassi Scheffer at 800-839-9453 or [email protected]. For more information on the conference, contact Cearley at 806-651-5760 or [email protected].

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