WiFi Wildlife

The BLM employs wireless technology to balance renewable wind energy with the conservation of Oregon's wild animals in their natural habitat.

story by Scott Stoffel
photos by Merrie Richardson & John Craig

The testing of potential locations for new wind energy projects has increased dramatically over the last four years on public lands managed by the BLM's Lakeview District. And this trend will likely continue into the foreseeable future as part of the President's emphasis on renewable energy production. Thus it's essential that scientists better understand how wind energy development may affect sensitive species to prepare the BLM to continue its mission conserving native plant and animal communities while supporting renewable energy initiatives.

Specifically, the greater sage-grouse is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. And eastern Oregon is home to some of the best habitat for this bird, with roughly 30 percent of this territory managed by the Lakeview District. It also happens that many of these sites inhabited by the sage-grouse have a strong potential for wind energy production. For the BLM, a balance must be achieved.

In 2009, wildlife biologists from the Lakeview Resource Area developed a project to establish baseline data for sage-grouse habitat. These reference records are to serve as a starting-point for comparison purposes with future proposals for wind energy development within the bird's home range.

As part of their study, BLM scientists employed wireless technology to mark and track the greater sage-grouse across over 300,000 acres of shrub-steppe grassland on which four wind energy projects have been granted right-of-way access. A total of 120 sage-grouse were fitted with radio collars and monitored from September 2009 to September 2010.

WiFi Wildlife

BLM biologists collected data related to the bird's population numbers, productivity, mortality, seasonal habitat use, movement patterns, and group behavior. Additionally, data related to how juniper plant growth may impact the nesting of sage-grouse was also part of this research. This juniper-related information may ultimately be used by the Natural Resource Conservation Service for an additional research project evaluating the sage-grouse response to the removal of encroaching juniper.

Initial reports from the BLM study have been very helpful in creating a picture of the sage-grouse's habitat before any wind energy projects are constructed - so much so that the scientists will extend their research a second year. Soon, the data generated from this project will help the BLM develop wind energy projects that provide not just the necessary energy our nation requires, but also to conserve the native sage-grouse who call the land their home. This majestic bird shall continue to dance across the high-desert landscape as it has for centuries.

Read more about the BLM's mission to conserve and protect Greater Sage-Grouse and sagebrush habitat.