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FWS guidelines designed to minimize impact of wind energy development projects on wildlife

published in McAfee & Taft RegLINC | July 1, 2012

By Jessica John Bowman

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its Final Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines, which are designed to help minimize the impact of wind energy development projects on wildlife and their habitats. The final guidelines encourage developers to communicate with the Fish and Wildlife Service during pre- and post-construction phases in order to identify, avoid and minimize risks associated with developing a project at a particular location.

The guidelines use a five-tiered approach for collecting information and evaluating risks associated with a particular development project. In the Tier 1 stage, developers work with the Service to perform a preliminary site evaluation. Tier 2 involves a broadbased site characterization of one or more potential sites, and Tier 3 involves field studies designed to document wildlife at the site and to predict the potential impacts of the project. Tiers 4 and 5 involve post-construction studies to estimate the actual impact of the project. In each of these tiers, the Service and the developer assess the risks associated with the project based upon the investigation conducted in that tier. In some cases, the Service may recommend modification, mitigation, postconstruction monitoring, or even abandonment of a particular project based on the investigation and information discovered during each of the five stages.

Adherence to the guidelines is voluntary, and those who elect to adhere to the guidelines are not relieved of their obligations under other laws and regulations, such as the Endangered Species Act or the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. However, in the event that a project gives rise to a violation of one of those acts, the Service may consider a developer’s documented efforts to communicate with the Service and adhere to the guidelines when considering a violation of those laws and regulations.