Wyo. wind project offers grouse conservation plan | SkyHiNews.com

Wyo. wind project offers grouse conservation plan

Matt Joyce
The Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The developer of a proposed southern Wyoming wind farm is seeking federal approval of a conservation deal that could help the project move forward in an area that’s also home to sage grouse.

The Power Company of Wyoming wants to build a 1,000-turbine wind farm on part of a 486-square-mile cattle ranch near Rawlins. Denver-based Anschutz Corp. owns the Power Company and the ranch, which is a mixture of private and federal lands.

To build the project, the company must address concerns related to the sage grouse. More than half of the project site overlaps with “core” habitat area designated by the state for special protection. Also, the Interior Department last month made the bird a candidate for federal endangered species protection.

The Power Company of Wyoming says its conservation plan, which also covers the Wyoming pocket gopher and the northern leopard frog, is meant to offset the impacts of wind development and ranching on the three species, and even provide a net conservation benefit.

The plan includes measures such as removing fences, marking fences with reflectors to reduce grouse collisions, closing and reclaiming roads to reduce habitat fragmentation and other habitat and water improvements.

“It covers approximately 500 square miles and there are numerous remedial measures that are taken in this thing,” said Bill Miller, president of Power Company of Wyoming. “It’s a very comprehensive plan that basically sets forth how we’ll operate this ranch as well as our commercial operations on this 500 square miles in the future.”

The conservation plan is part of the company’s proposal to enter a “Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Such agreements are a conservation tool listed in the Endangered Species Act. The agreement would bind the developer to specific conservation measures. In return, the company would not be subject to new land-use rules if the grouse, pocket gopher or leopard frog are listed as endangered in the future.

The Power Company says its project will generate between 2,000 and 3,000 megawatts of energy, depending on the size of turbines used. The conservation plan would cover the entire ranch, even though the wind project would be placed on about a third of the property.

There’s no timeframe for the Fish and Wildlife Service to act on the proposed conservation plan, said Roxanne Peruso, Power Company’s vice president.

In the meantime, the company is moving forward with some of the conservation measures, including collaring 40 grouse hens with GPS devices this week as part of a long-term monitoring program.

“As the project goes forward, we’ll be able to use that data to understand if our conservation efforts are working as modeled,” Peruso said. “It will give us an opportunity for adapted management, and make sure that we meet our contractual requirements under the [Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances].”

Calls left with employees of the Fish and Wildlife Service and state of Wyoming were not returned Friday.

The conservation plan is also part of the ongoing Bureau of Land Management environmental study of the project. A BLM finding of the project’s environmental impact is expected by the end of the year.

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