Wyoming wind power project gets bird radar

The radar, originally for the military, will help developer Power Co. of Wyoming LLC collect data about the habitat and migration patters of golden eagles, bald eagles, hawks and other bird species and bats at the proposed 1,000 wind turbines wind energy project.

The information will be used to help create a management plan for eagles, birds and bats on the company’s Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project.

The proposed 2,500 megawatt, $4 billion to $6 billion wind farm site will sit on portions of 154 square miles of the Overland Trail Cattle Co. ranch, a 500 square-mile checkerboard of public and private land.

“Previous radar studies have not been specifically designed to detect and understand eagle use patterns, so this is one of the first applications of the technology,” said Garry Miller, director of land and environmental affairs for Power Co. of Wyoming, or PCW, in a media release.

“The data will supplement the extensive raptor information we’ve been gathering over the past year using traditional avian point count surveys, and it will further PCW’s goal to avoid, minimize and mitigate potential impacts to wildlife based upon best available science,” he said.

The monitoring program also will identify any areas of high eagle usage, which may then be considered when siting wind turbines and designing the Eagle Conservation Plan, according to the company. PCW is a subsidiary of Denver-based Anschutz Corp., which owns the ranch.

The system, developed by Florida-based DeTect Inc., will operate continuously over the next 12 to 18 months. Wildlife biologists currently are “training” it to recognize different species, with the help of post-detection statistical analysis and computer modeling.

The radar monitoring system joins the wind energy project’s sage grouse monitoring program, which launched in April 2010. Fifty female grouse were tagged with GPS tracking devices, and a male grouse study in the ranch area is being conducted by scientists from the University of Missouri, U.S. Forest Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and others.

The Bureau of Land Management is currently preparing an environmental impact statement on the wind power project, since it spans a combination of private and federal land. A draft of the impact statement is expected sometime next year. Once both the BLM and the company have obtaned state and county permission, construction will begin in 2012-2013.

Jeremy Fugleberg, trib.com/