A number of utility-scale solar energy projects are being developed on public lands in the desert southwest, including in areas with high biodiversity and protected species. USGS science is helping to understand the potential impact to wildlife and habitats for a number of wildlife species. Scientists are also developing risk assessment tools to allow energy developers to streamline permitting of solar energy developments.
Little is known about the effects of solar power towers on flying animals and few methods exist for automatically detecting or observing wildlife at solar towers and other tall anthropogenic structures. USGS is evaluating the potential effectiveness of electro-optical and thermal video cameras, radar, and invertebrate sampling equipment to observe and monitor birds, bats, and insects flying in the vicinity of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System Facility in southern California.
USGS is leading a new study to produce unbiased estimates of avian fatalities at solar facilities. The software will provide the ability to define the source of fatality, estimate searcher efficiency and carcass persistence, and determine mitigation triggers when set thresholds have likely been exceeded and adaptive management might be considered. This will allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the BLM, on whose lands much solar development is taking place, to analyze data on the effects of solar facilities on migratory birds and on potential impacts to protected species.
USGS researchers will use a combination of tools to understand how mortality at renewable energy facilities affects populations of sensitive bird and bat species in California. Stable isotopes will help estimate the geographic scope of the population of birds or bats impacted. Demographic modeling will help determine how individual fatalities affect the growth or decline of species’ populations. Development of analytical methods will aid researchers in determining the best practices for conducting risk assessments and predicting mitigation outcomes.
Conservation planning and biodiversity management require information on landscape connectivity across a range of spatial scales from individual home ranges to large regions. Our approach uses information derived at three spatial scales to forecast potential changes in habitat connectivity under various scenarios of energy development and climate change.
Top Photo: Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. Photo courtesy of Pacific Southwest Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.