Risk and Impact Assessment

Science Center Objects

USGS scientists study and monitor fish and wildlife, providing natural resource managers evidence-based information on the status and trends of species of interest. A rigorous scientific process is applied to understand risks, measure impacts, and inform solutions to national and local challenges facing both humans and wildlife.

Each project below is associated with a type of energy production or transmission. Types of energy production or transmission are represented by the following icons:

Hydropower, offshore wind energy, oil and gas extraction, solar energy, and wind power icons

Abbreviations used in project descriptions are defined on the Energy and Wildife Abbrevations page.

Projects below also are grouped into the following categories:

Bats

Birds

Landscape

Mammals and Reptiles

Raptors

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Bats

 

Wind power icon

Review of Bird and Bat Risk From Wind Development

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Attempts to measure and mitigate the effects of wind turbines on wildlife have been an integral part of wind energy development. Collision mortality, displacement, and habitat loss can cause population level effects, especially for rare or endangered species. A team of international researchers, including those from USGS, reviewed studies from Spain, Norway, Canada, the United States, and southern Africa that document the impact of wind energy development on raptors. The researchers gave an overview of raptor species affected by wind farms, discussed monitoring and mitigation strategies, and addressed how studying raptor behavior can inform turbine siting to minimize collision risks. USGS scientists also summarized current pre-construction assessment risks to wildlife from wind turbines, described the number of species and individuals affected by blade-strikes, and discussed how and why pre-construction monitoring is conducted. Several shortcomings were noted in the methods used to assess the risk of fatality at turbines, including the lack of studies to offer evidence for a link between pre-construction surveys and post-construction fatalities.

 

Wind power icon

The North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

USGS is the lead agency of a multiorganizational program called NABat, or the North American Bat Monitoring Program. NABat members work to better understand the ecological consequences of population decline and risks from continuing and emerging threats, such as white-nose syndrome and wind energy, on 46 species of bats common to Canada, the United States, and Mexico. NABat’s mission is to help resource managers and industry partners map bat distributions, better estimate extinction risk, and evaluate the effectiveness of conservation actions. USGS has developed online data management and collaboration tools for bat monitoring, including services for archiving pre-construction acoustic recordings collected at wind energy facilities. Presently, NABat monitoring data have been collected in 39 States and 10 Canadian Provinces. NABat participants include State and Federal agencies, universities and NGOs, as well as private industry (for example, Duke Energy). Newly developed resources include a protocol for processing acoustic data collected to monitor the impacts of energy development on bats and advanced statistical modeling procedures to interpret acoustic monitoring data for bat population status and trends.

 

Wind power icon

Ultraviolet Illumination as a Means of Reducing Bat Activity and Risk at Wind Turbines

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

Insectivorous bats are known for their ability to find and pursue flying insect prey at close range using echolocation, but they also rely heavily on vision. Using a cue that only bats would perceive, USGS is developing technologies to prevent bats from approaching wind turbines that might be mistaken for trees. USGS scientists are collaborating with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory through a DOE Technology Development and Innovation award on refining a selectively perceptible wind turbine system to prevent bat fatalities. This project plans to test the hypothesis that dim, flickering, and position-shifting UV light can enable bats to differentiate turbines from trees, keeping bats from approaching turbines in search of resources such as food or roosts. Results from this and related research may determine whether dim UV light can reduce bat activity and fatality at operational wind farms, with the potential benefit of allowing operators to run turbines at maximum efficiency.

 

Wind power icon

Understanding and Reducing Bat Fatalities Associated With Wind Turbines

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

Migratory bat species that roost in trees, or tree bats, are disproportionately affected by wind turbines, in part because they appear to be attracted to these structures. USGS science has led to new discoveries about these species, such as the consistent patterns in which tree bats approach and interact with turbines at night. USGS scientists have also identified areas of the continent where mortality risk might be higher, such as the Great Plains, the Great Lakes region, and areas adjacent to coastal wintering areas. Currently, USGS scientists are using this new information about bat behaviors, seasonal distribution, and perception to develop efficient and effective ways of reducing bat interactions with wind turbines.

Bat collage

From left: Indiana bat (Credit: U.S. Forest Service). Northern long-eared bat (Credit: Steven Thomas, USFWS). Hoary bat found dead beneath a wind turbine (Credit: Paul Cryan, USGS). Mexican free-tailed bats exiting Bracken bat cave (Credit: Ann Froschauer, USFWS).

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Birds

 

wind and solar icons

Advancing Wildlife Monitoring Technologies Using Weather Surveillance Radar

Science Center: Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

USGS research in aeroecology relies on advancing radar and other kinds of remote sensing technology to understand the behavior and ecology of flying animals. USGS is using both historical data and present-day technologies to observe wildlife behaviors in response to changing habitats and landscapes, such as wind and solar energy development and artificial light, as well as ecological barriers and extreme weather events. This research can help with the development of tools designed to predict risks to flying animals.

 

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Evaluation of Offshore Radar-Based Monitoring of Flying Animals

Science Center: Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

The Icebreaker Wind Project is a pilot, six-turbine offshore wind development proposed for western Lake Erie, 8 miles offshore of Cleveland, Ohio. As part of the environmental regulatory process, project developers gather radar data on the use of project airspace by flying animals during the pre- and post-construction period. At the request of USFWS, the wind developer, and the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, USGS scientists evaluated proposed approaches for using radar to track birds and bats in the airspace. The evaluation addresses technical and environmental concerns that bird monitoring associated with other proposed offshore developments may encounter. This assessment helps decision makers implement a best practice approach to evaluating the risk to flying animals near a proposed development site.

 

Offshore wind power icon

External GPS-GSM Transmitters for Tracking Seabirds

Science Center: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

USGS scientists are testing solar-powered GPS-GSM transmitters on seabirds to capture fine-scale movement patterns and better relate the influence of weather, resource availability, and hazardous conditions on seabirds. These transmitters are providing data on flight altitude of seabirds, information that is relevant to assessing the risk of collision or displacement to seabirds by potential offshore wind turbines. This information can be used to model habitat use, mortality risk, and the impact of weather on flight behavior for these species regarding multiple proposed offshore wind facilities along the Atlantic coast.

 

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Overland Migration of Marine Birds in a Wind Energy Corridor

Cooperative Research Unit: South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The Pacific coast of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico contains a substantial wetland complex supporting large aggregations of nonbreeding waterbirds. Extensive wind energy development has occurred in the plains bordering these wetlands. This study examined movement patterns of three marine-associated bird species in the northern GOM. Data provide evidence that marine birds from the Gulf region overwinter along the Pacific coast of Mexico and use the isthmus as a migratory corridor. This research can help resource managers better understand the various risks that marine birds may encounter during migration.

 

Offshore wind and oil and gas extraction icons

Pacific Marine Bird and Mammal Research and Monitoring Programs

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

USGS and partners have gathered information about marine bird and mammal research and monitoring programs into an online database to support environmental risk assessments for species and habitats sensitive to offshore energy activities in the southern California and Washington-Oregon Planning Areas and the Hawaiian OCS of BOEM. The database includes information from programs that assessed distribution, abundance, and biology of marine birds, such as seabirds, waterbirds, sea ducks, or shorebirds, and marine mammals, such as cetaceans, pinnipeds, or sea otters. Much of the information focuses on species protected under the Endangered Species or Marine Mammal Protection Acts. This database can be easily updated as new information becomes available.

 

Offshore wind power icon

Potential Impacts of Offshore Wind Energy Projects on Endangered Roseate Terns

Science Center: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Offshore wind energy projects are being proposed and developed off the coasts of Massachusetts and New York, with the first project becoming operational at Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. Fish-eating terns traveling through these areas could be affected by the construction and operation of wind turbines. The Cape and Islands area of southeastern Massachusetts is a particularly important area for the endangered northwest Atlantic roseate tern because most of the population congregates in this area for several months during the post-breeding staging period prior to fall migration. USGS scientists are examining long-term temporal variation in staging site use and survival of terns prior to the construction of offshore wind turbines. These data could be useful for evaluating the timing of risks to roseate terns from proposed offshore wind energy projects.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Spatial and Reproductive Ecology of Brown Pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico

Cooperative Research Unit: South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

GOM contains a high density of oil infrastructure and a rich assemblage of seabirds, yet baseline data on at-sea distribution and habitat use of these species are poorly understood. The brown pelican is a focal species for studies about risk exposure in the marine environment because of its distribution, behavior, and known sensitivity to chemical and oil contaminants. To assist USFWS, BOEM, State agencies, and the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network in developing management plans and future research and monitoring efforts, USGS is studying colony-specific movement patterns, habitat use at sea, and reproduction for brown pelicans. Movement data collected using GPS satellite tags on 85 adult pelicans breeding in the region can help resource managers assess the spatial ecology of the brown pelican.

 

wind and solar icons

Tools to Assess Energy Development Impacts on Sensitive Birds and Bats

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

A combination of tools is being used to understand how mortality at renewable energy facilities affects populations of sensitive bird and bat species in California. As part of this project, stable isotopes are being used to estimate the geographic scope of the population of birds or bats affected, and demographic modeling is being used to forecast how individual fatalities affect the growth or decline of the species’ populations. Development of analytical methods can aid in determining the best practices for conducting risk assessments and predicting mitigation outcomes. Field survey design and protocols are also being developed and integrated with the developed tools. These tools can allow energy developers to more accurately estimate fatality rates and effects of mitigation techniques at wind and solar energy facilities, which may streamline permitting and ultimately reduce costs of energy development.

Seabird collage

From left: Spotted sandpiper chick (Credit: Brette Soucie, USFWS). Crested auklet in the rain (Credit: R. Dugan, USFWS). Albatross flying over the ocean (Credit: USFWS). Endangered monk seal and Laysan Albatross (Credit: Dan Clark, USFWS). Great frigatebird protecting his young (Credit: Laura M. Beauregard, USFWS).

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Landscape

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Sensitive and Rare Plant Distributions and Energy Development in the Colorado Plateau

Cooperative Research Unit: Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

USGS scientists have developed optimization models to identify lands where management and conservation conflicts between energy development and sensitive and rare plant species could be minimized. As part of this effort, scientists organized existing data on 21 federally listed, rare and sensitive plant species in the Colorado Plateau. Scientists also are collecting new data on plant locations and developing distribution models that indicate the likelihood of plants being present in specified locations. The plant species distribution models are being analyzed in relation to existing and proposed renewable and oil and gas energy development in the Colorado Plateau. Results from this study can help decision makers select variable risk strategies depending on desired management and energy development goals.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Smart Energy Development in the Sagebrush Ecosystem

USGS is at the forefront of developing science and tools to help inform policy and management decisions about various aspects of the energy development life cycle. These development strategies are particularly important in the American West where ongoing demands for limited natural resources in sagebrush ecosystems and the need to be cost-effective require that management and regulatory decisions be made at the broader landscape scale. Working with Federal, State, and industry partners, USGS scientists are developing natural resource information, management tools, risk assessments, and scenario planning that will form the scientific foundation needed to target areas in sagebrush ecosystems of high resource potential and low environmental concern to inform effective development strategies.

 

Hydropower and wind energy icons

Structured Decision Making: Decision Support Frameworks and Tools for Conservation

Science Center: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

SDM is an approach for careful and organized analysis of natural resource management decisions. SDM encompasses a set of concepts and steps based on decision theory and risk analysis, including making decisions on the basis of clearly articulated fundamental objectives, recognizing the role of scientific predictions in decisions, dealing explicitly with uncertainty, and responding transparently to societal values in decision making. This approach can be used to address a variety of resource management decisions related to the operation and management of energy infrastructure, including the long-term management of the Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona.

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Mammals and Reptiles

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Florida Manatee Movement and Habitat Use in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

USGS scientists are investigating the distribution of Florida manatees and their habitats and travel corridors in the northern GOM. Health assessments were performed on manatees known to travel to the northern GOM, and GPS tracking devices that provide telemetry to acquire fine-scale habitat use and movement were attached to the mammals. Scientists are also conducting field studies to characterize local resources in areas that support manatee habitat or consistent use. This information is being used to inform the risk of interactions between manatees and vessels traveling to and from oil and gas structures.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

GoMMAPPS is a multiagency partnership between the BOEM, USFWS, NOAA, NOPP, and USGS with the goal of conducting broad-scale surveys of protected species to inform managers on the distribution and abundance of marine animals across seasons and years. USGS is leading efforts to provide information to GoMMAPPS on abundance, distribution, and movement patterns of sea turtles and seabirds. Some of the largest gaps in knowledge of marine turtle and seabird ecology occur in areas of heavy oil and gas use, including BOEM’s GOM Central and Western Planning Areas. Information generated by USGS and its GoMMAPPS partners can be used in support of various BOEM/BSEE activities, including oil spill risk analysis, decommissioning of oil platforms, and movements of vessels.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Measuring the Impacts of Industrial Activities on Polar Bears

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS scientists are characterizing change in the abundance, distribution, and health of polar bears relative to human activities in the Arctic. These studies emphasize the identification of critical habitats potentially at risk of disturbance from industrial activities along Alaska’s arctic coast. This work has informed efforts of DOI agencies and industry when considering the consequences of oil spills and exposures to pollutants and actions to mitigate such occurrences. USGS continues to work closely with DOI and industry partners to identify circumstances in which industrial activities likely adversely affect polar bears. Future work is expected to focus on the potential for resource development activities on land and offshore to directly and indirectly benefit polar bear behavior and health.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Sea Turtle Movements and Habitat Use in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

USFWS and NOAA’s NMFS identified that information on the distribution, seasonal movements, vital rates, and habitat use for all life stages of marine turtles is needed to recover these threatened and endangered species. USGS scientists are attaching satellite tags and acceleration data loggers capable of logging dive data to provide fine-scale information on the dive profiles of Kemp’s ridleys, loggerheads, and green sea turtles in the GOM. These dive profiles provide insight into turtle depth use, movement patterns, mortality risk, use of post-dredge sites, use of preferred thermal zones, and time spent near the vicinity of dredging activities. This study can directly address recovery and protection goals and provide information on in-water aggregations of sub-adult, juvenile, and adult marine turtles in the GOM.

Collage of mammals affected by energy development

From left: Elk grazing (Credit: Danielle Brigida, USFWS). Manatee (Credit: Nick Aumen, USGS). Mule Deer (Credit: Shelley Koerner, USFWS). Polar Bear (Credit: Mario Hoppmann, NASA). Pronghorn (Credit: Tom Koerner, USFWS).

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Raptors

 

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Assessing Eagle Use Frequency at Wind Energy Facilities

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Operation of wind energy facilities can adversely affect eagles, among other wildlife. USFWS guidelines suggest wind facility operators or developers survey eagle use and calculate the risk to eagles across the project area; however, questions have arisen concerning the degree to which data from survey plots represent eagle use over an entire project area. USGS is using existing telemetry data on golden eagles in the Mojave Desert, California, to help USFWS compare eagle use within a plot to eagle use over an entire project area. Results can provide a better understanding of golden eagle activity and a context for interpreting survey data collected at potential wind energy facilities.

 

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Condor Flight Behavior Near Wind Energy Facilities

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Scientists from USGS, USFWS, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and BLM are using high-frequency GPS-GSM telemetry to study flight responses of California condors to understand the risk these raptors face from potential wind energy development. Tracking 24 condors for nearly 2 years, researchers found that although the condors only occasionally flew at altitudes in the rotor-swept zone of turbines, they regularly used classes of winds preferred by wind energy developers. The collision risk to large soaring birds from turbines should be relatively lower over flatter, less rugged areas and in habitat used during daytime soaring. This information can be used by wind energy developers to predict and avoid the risk to condors from existing and proposed turbines.

 

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Evaluating Population-Level Impacts of Wind Energy Development

Science Centers: Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center and Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

The impact of wind energy generation on wildlife is commonly approached by monitoring the incidence of mortality resulting from turbine collisions. These mortality events may or may not scale up to observable impacts at a population level. USGS scientists are developing a framework for assessing population-level impacts of wind energy by using abundance time-series data and turbine location maps. The two-part approach first examines whether the timing and placement of turbines on the landscape are coincident with observed population trends at regional scales by using dynamic factor analysis. Next, localized impacts are examined by comparing population trends from sampling locations near wind turbine development with relatively distant locations by using Bayesian structural time-series models. This research can assist conservation managers with wind energy project permitting and the use and interpretation of monitoring protocols for wind facilities.

 

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Golden Eagle Migration and Habitat Use

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

USGS is collecting information related to habitat use, home range, and population dynamics of golden eagles in the Central Appalachians, northeastern California, and the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, using various methodologies including GPS-GSM communications telemetry, standard GIS analyses, nest visits, and non-invasive genetic monitoring. The data have been used to model movement and create risk models to assist resource management agencies in evaluating management options for this species. Results can inform resource managers about where and when eagles could be most at risk from disturbances associated with renewable energy structures. Data are being combined with datasets from similar projects to create a framework and baseline to build an effective long-term golden eagle monitoring program in support of adaptive management.

 

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Golden Eagles in New Mexico

Cooperative Research Unit: New Mexico Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

BLM manages large areas in New Mexico that have a high potential for wind energy development. USGS science is helping assess the risk that proposed wind energy developments in southeastern and south-central New Mexico may have on resident and migratory golden eagles. The study was conducted to assess the movement ecology and genetic structure of migratory and resident golden eagles; identify nest sites; estimate productivity and survival, origin, and migration patterns; and determine factors affecting golden eagle distribution. Results of the study may be used to inform the development of mitigation strategies that can reduce potential negative effects from proposed wind energy developments on golden eagles.

 

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Potential Interactions of Migrating Raptors and Wind Energy Sites at the International Scale

Cooperative Research Unit: Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Swainson’s hawks are long-distance migratory raptors that breed across Western North America and migrate to Argentina for the winter. This annual round trip of approximately 20,000 kilometers, or 12,500 miles, takes the hawks over 12 countries, which all have interests in wind energy development. USGS is using GPS transmitters to determine the hawk’s precise migration routes and movement patterns in their breeding and wintering ranges. This research can help identify high-risk areas for migrating raptors at the international scale.

 

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Tracking Bald Eagles Near Wind Energy Facilities in the Central Great Plains

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

The Central Great Plains is an important focus area for the development of new wind facilities. USGS is leading an effort to track bald eagles using GPS-GSM telemetry to acquire information that will help wildlife managers address potential conflict between bald eagles and wind turbines in Oklahoma and collaborate on similar work in Iowa and Illinois. Scientists are collecting information on topography, weather, and land cover to understand how environmental conditions may put eagles at risk from collisions with turbines.

Bald and Golden Eagles

From left: Bald eagles on a foggy morning; olden eagle on power pole; golden eagle perched on a ledge above the Green River; golden eagle along Highway 189 south of Kemmerer Wyoming. (Credit: Tom Koerner, USFWS. Public domain.)