Hays As interest in wind farms expands across Kansas, researchers are working to see how some of the state's native wildlife, particularly prairie chickens, are affected by the farms' huge turbines.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, National Wind Coordinating Committee, wind farm developers and federal agencies are paying for the research, which could help decide if wind farms are built.
Kansas State University researchers Brett Sandercock and Samantha Wisely will lead the research effort. They'll concentrate on areas in the Flint Hills - prime territory for the greater prairie chicken, a species often used to measure grasslands' overall health.
The four-year study will be conducted on land where wind energy projects are proposed and on sites where development is not planned, the wildlife and parks department said in a statement.
Researchers also might study the Elk River Wind Power Project near Beaumont in Butler County and compare prairie chicken activities in that developed area with an area with no wind farms.
The effect of wind energy on wildlife is largely unknown in Kansas. Some studies have shown prairie chickens will avoid manmade structures, so researchers will try to determine how the animals react to wind farm towers, which can reach several hundred feet.
"The research is very, very needed," said Randy Rodgers, a wildlife biologist at the KDWP office in Hays.
The Nature Conservancy, which has donated a small amount of money toward the research project, has also raised concerns about the lack of state guidelines for wind farm placement. Conservationists also worry that studying the effects of wind farms on prairie chickens will require the sacrifice of pristine land.
"My question is, what are the options?" said Rob Manes, the agency's director of conservation.