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February 20, 2023

Title: No More Tilting at Windmills: A Quantitative Method for Evaluating Development Impacts

Speaker: Jill Shaffer, Ecologist, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

Date: February 24th at 2:00 pm Eastern

Summary:  Transitioning to renewable energy sources as a means of mitigating climate change will require greater development of renewable-energy facilities across the Nation. Development of renewable energy is a priority for the Department of the Interior, but so is land and water conservation that ensures that natural resources are sustained for future generations. Unintended consequences of energy facilities include wildlife habitat degradation leading to displacement of bird species and mortality to birds and bats. Thus, efforts to transition to higher dependence on renewable-energy sources, while still protecting the Nations’ natural resources, will require tradeoffs in land management priorities.

The USGS is examining whether compatibility could be found between increasing renewable-energy capacity and conserving the Nation’s lands and waters. Specifically, the study developed a framework that allows energy developers, land managers, and other interested parties to calculate how much land is already regulated and therefore unavailable for future development. The framework then calculates the amount of unregulated land that could either be developed into future energy infrastructure or conserved. Next, the framework evaluates scenarios such as “What is the amount of land available for building renewable-energy infrastructure while also considering the habitat requirements of bird species and protecting the best habitat for them?” This framework, a model developed in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and WEST, Inc., allows the user to evaluate tradeoffs in the face of potential land scarcity owing to increased build-out of energy infrastructure and other human developments, against the need and desire to protect the Nation’s resources.

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