ND’s habitat proposal upsets utility companies

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota’s efforts to reduce the impact of wind development on wildlife habitats are drawing opposition from energy and agriculture industries.
The state Game and Fish Department has proposed voluntary guidelines aimed at steering wind developers away from building turbines and roads in wildlife habitats. The guidelines also outline a way companies can offset their impact to habitats through projects that restore or reconstruct habitats elsewhere, the Bismarck Tribune reported .
“Research has shown fragmentation and other impacts to habitat have a greater impact than actual turbine blade collisions,” said Greg Link, the department’s chief of conservation and communications.
Utility company officials told lawmakers last week that they weren’t given the opportunity to comment on the proposal. They also questioned the department’s authority to develop guidelines they said could be interpreted as requirements.
Several people expressed concerns to the Legislature’s Interim Natural Resources Committee about a $557,000 payment to Ducks Unlimited that wind developer NextEra made to resolve wildlife officials’ concerns about a wind farm in Dickey County.
“There is a practice going on where we are extorting funds from companies for projects in North Dakota,” said Doug Goehring, the state’s agriculture commissioner.
Department officials said they’ll keep working with stakeholders to revise the recommendations.
North Dakota has a dozen species on the federal threatened and endangered list, with 11 more petitioned for inclusion on the list, Link said. He said wind turbines and associated roads in native, unbroken North Dakota grassland have led to the loss of about 2,400 acres (971 hectares) of habitat for rare, unique and declining species.
“Our native habitats, as important as they are, they have really been diminished,” Link said. “That’s why we have those species that are in peril.”