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April 20, 2010 3:20 am

Wind energy guidelines will protect wildlife

Written by Tribune Staff

As Wyoming gears up for continued wind energy development, the state is taking smart, proactive steps to minimize wildlife disturbances caused by wind farms.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, as part of the process, recently approved guidelines crafted by the Game and Fish Department that focus on the relationship between wildlife and wind energy development. According to a recent Associated Press story, the guidelines were formulated to assist the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council in determining — on a case-by-case basis — whether large wind energy projects (30 or more turbines) should receive permits to begin construction.

Predictably, some landowners are crying, “Foul!” They maintain the guidelines give the state excess control over what can be done on private property.

However, according to David Willims, state assistant attorney general for water and natural resources, “It's simply a recommendation, and Game and Fish can't enforce it.”

Instead, the document will simply provide guidance to the people tasked with approving projects.

The effect of wind energy development on the state's wildlife has been an issue ever since developers began to look — in earnest and on a large scale — at harnessing Wyoming's abundant wind power.

Rancher David Whitton, part of a group of Wyoming landowners pursuing wind energy development, made clear where his group stands: “It's about private property rights. The intent of this document is to control what I do on my own property.”

However, the state already places limits on what one can do on his or her private property — hunting laws are a good example.

Allowing property owners to approach wind energy development in a haphazard manner would be a mistake that Wyomingites may live to regret — and the effects on state wildlife could be irreversible.

As the agency entrusted with overseeing Wyoming's wildlife, the Game and Fish Department should be an active participant in the process. The expertise of state agencies, such as Game and Fish, is a valuable resource as the future of wind energy development is plotted.