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Photo of a sage grouse.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory developed a spatially explicit individual-based model for examining the cumulative impacts of wind energy development on populations and habitats of the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus)—a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Model development was initiated with funding from DOE's Wind Program.

Concern over the sustainability of sage-grouse populations in the face of increasing development have led to widespread restrictions on development in sage-grouse core areas, but an incomplete understanding of the bird's response to the development of wind farms and other structures could lead to unnecessary or ineffective restrictions. The model is intended to facilitate smart development that minimizes impact by synthesizing available information into a predictive model.

The sage-grouse has an unusual, complex life history, which includes movements between different areas from season to season. Disruption of any portion of the annual life cycle could result in long-term impacts in a wider portion of the species range. The Argonne model incorporates the species' requirements and movements to better understand how wind energy projects and other impacts could affect populations.

In September 2012, Argonne published a report describing the modeling approach and its application in Albany County, Wyoming, an area that currently supports important populations of greater sage-grouse and has high wind energy development potential. This early model prototype demonstrated the utility of the approach to assess direct, indirect, and cumulative effects by modeling changes in habitat suitability, reproduction, and survivorship of individual sage-grouse.

A graphic simulation of the geographic dispersion of sage grouse populations in an area for wind farm development.

Since 2012, the model has been refined to incorporate the latest sage-grouse research; demonstrate the ability of the model to evaluate various mitigation scenarios including avoidance, minimization, and compensation; incorporate other land use changes in a cumulative impact scenario; and expand its application to the entire state of Wyoming.

With this tool, users will be able determine the proximate cause of sage-grouse population changes (e.g., changes in survivorship, reproduction, and habitat suitability), and this information could be used to help design improved mitigation strategies.

Argonne plans to further develop the model into a fully functioning, user-friendly tool for land management agencies, planners, developers, and other stakeholders to evaluate the effects of wind development on this critically important wildlife species. Future work will focus on incorporating the latest information on habitat suitability, sage-grouse biology, and wind development effects.