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U.S. Geological Survey scientists Jill Shaffer and Todd Katzner served as Embassy Science Fellows for the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan’s 2023-2024 program, sharing their expertise on wind-wildlife interactions with scientists and energy industry professionals from 44 countries.

The U.S. Department of State’s Embassy Science Fellows Program (ESF) connects U.S. government scientists with partners around the globe to address specific scientific and technological issues. For the 2023-2024 ESF Program, the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan sought an Embassy Science Fellow to focus on wind power and conservation in central Asia. Kazakhstan’s government has set a goal of increasing the amount of energy generated from renewable sources to 15% by 2030, but there is little experience or training there in how to address potential wind-wildlife conflict. 

two people standing on either side of a conference poster, the poster has a picture of an adult eagle and its chick in a nest

USGS scientists Jill Shaffer and Todd Katzner jointly answered the Embassy’s request and were connected with a local host organization, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK). Jill and Todd have extensive experience researching the effects of wind energy on birds and developing methods for mitigating the negative effects of renewable energy.

Todd traveled to Kazakhstan in June 2023 to visit his long-term study site, met with the U.S. Embassy and host organization, and gave an introductory lecture on wind-wildlife introductions. He states, “I’ve been working on projects in Kazakhstan for more than 25 years. It is rare that I’ve had a chance to reach so many people and share knowledge in this manner. The ESF program provided Jill and me a unique opportunity to share experiences about solving wind-wildlife problems and to highlight the role of USGS in this type of work. It really was a special program.”

Shortly after accepting the fellowship, Jill and Todd developed the concept for a monthly virtual lecture series. The goal of the series was to connect American renewable-energy experts from different fields with central Asian scientists and energy professionals.

In September 2023, both scientists traveled to Kazakhstan to kick off the lecture series, visit a field site, and attend the Eagles of the Palearctic Conference

At the Chokpak Ornithological Station in the foothills of the Tian Shan Mountains, Todd and Jill learned about bird banding and trapping techniques used in central Asia. Todd demonstrated Global Positioning System (GPS) telemetry methods for studying raptors.

two people sitting at a desk looking at a notebook, one person stands behind them in a small wooden building

The Eagles of the Palearctic Conference attracted 150 people from 32 countries and included a workshop on the effects of wind-energy infrastructure on raptor mortality. During the workshop, Todd discussed assessment of risk from turbines to birds, and Jill explained ways that the U.S. aims to lessen mortality risk of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) to wind-energy infrastructure.

a person standing behind a podium on a stage with a projector screen in the background showing golden eagle

During the remainder of their year-long fellowship, Jill and Todd organized and hosted the lecture and training series that reviewed cutting-edge science on avian and bat survey methods, risk assessment, mapping, and mitigation, as well as addressing regulatory and policy considerations. In addition to giving lectures, they brought in colleagues from the USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), state wildlife agencies, private consulting companies, and non-governmental organizations. 

The series was viewed more than 500 times by people from at least 44 countries on five continents. Attendees included scientists, lawyers, international finance professionals, project managers for energy facilities, and government ministers for energy, environment, and agriculture from across the targeted central Asia region, and from the Caucasus, southern Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. 

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Central Asian scientists and energy professionals gained a better understanding of the main issues of large-scale renewable-energy development on a country’s biodiversity and an understanding of possible solutions. 

Jill and Todd, two leading scientists in their field, spent the year listening to the concerns of central Asian countries and establishing a network for scientific exchange and problem solving. Both of their research programs have contributed valuable information and tools used by natural resource managers and the energy industry to minimize negative impacts of renewable energy on birds.  Jill worked with the FWS to develop the Avian-Impact Offset Method. This tool quantifies the amount of protected grasslands and wetlands needed to offset habitat loss due to energy and transportation infrastructure. Todd leads the Renewables Wildlife Solutions Initiative, whose members submit tissue samples from animals found dead at renewable energy facilities. Those samples are used to determine population-level effects on wildlife. 

three people posing for a selfie while standing in a field of grass and shrubs with hills in the background

Jill found the program to be very rewarding. She states, “The Embassy Science Fellows Program allowed Todd and me an environment in which to share the lessons that scientists in the United States have learned over the past few decades with an international community of like-minded researchers. We were able to convey the negative effects of energy development on mortality and behavior of birds and bats, but also the ways that the U.S. has found to avoid, minimize, and mitigate those effects. To be able to share these lessons so that the Central Asian countries can leapfrog right to solutions was incredibly gratifying.”

These efforts are just two of the many ways USGS science has provided valuable tools and information to guide our partners who conduct pre-construction and post-construction surveys, operate wind energy facilities, and manage land and wildlife. The ESF gave USGS the opportunity to share its science with an international audience and demonstrate how partnerships between scientists, managers, and industry can make a lasting impact on wildlife conservation.

“The work that Jill and Todd have done in Kazakhstan during this Embassy Science Fellows opportunity epitomizes the spirit conveyed by the USGS agency logo: Science for a changing world. Our science reaches far and deep, and contributes to promote science diplomacy across the globe,” stated Gustavo Bisbal, Embassy Science Fellows Program Coordinator for the USGS, Office of International Programs.

five white wind turbines in a row against a bright blue sky with clouds

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