By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynes.net

The Nature Conservancy's Rob Manes is pleased with some sections of the proposed voluntary guidelines for wind energy.

But he's just as concerned about other parts of the document, released last week by the U.S. Department of Interior.

Manes, Keith Sexson, assistant secretary for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, and Robert Robel, a retired wildlife biologist at Kansas State University, all served on a working group that sought to put together a set of guidelines to protect wildlife.

There are stark differences in the guidelines put together by the advisory committee and those issued by the Department of Interior. The committee's recommendations covered nearly 200 pages while the issued guidelines only take up 87 pages.

Overall, the idea is to limit construction of wind farms to areas where they would least affect wildlife. Generally, the idea has been to keep wind farms out of native prairie regions, building them instead on cultivated land or areas that are already dramatically affected by man's activities.

Manes, director of conservation for TNC Kansas, was the conservation group's sole representative on the advisory committee. That's why he will be going through the proposed set of rules with a fine tooth comb to see how it affects areas throughout the country.

So far, he's glad to see the rules interact with eagle protection regulations, a companion set of rules that were issued.

"I'm only part way through my notes," Manes said of comparing the advisory committee's findings to the proposed set of voluntary guidelines.

He's also pleased with the approach taken in the guidelines in dealing with habitat fragmentation, a big threat for lesser prairie chickens, a bird that is just a step away from being listed on the federal Endangered Species List and the focus of a number of conservation programs aimed at converting land into grass.

But on the flip side of that issue, he's concerned that the decision to move lesser prairie chickens from the document and over onto a website could be seen as minimizing the effect wind energy has on the birds.

Specifically, the issue of dealing with grassland birds -- sage grouse and prairie chickens -- has been moved into an appendix available only online. It's not clear, however, where that appendix is located.

"It appears to downplay its importance, and I'm not happy with that," Manes said of the role wind farms can have on lesser prairie chicken populations, which essentially shun tall structures that can serve as lookout posts for raptors.

What effect the guidelines will have, because they are voluntary, is uncertain.

There are wind developers and utility companies dedicated to the idea of being good custodians of the environment, Manes said. Lenders also appear to be anxious to ensure a project doesn't become and ecological disaster.

At the outset, though, Manes thinks wind developers should abide by the regulations because of the sheer amount of federal subsidies involved.

Manes is intrigued with the idea of tying subsidies to the guidelines.

That could mean developers would be eligible for subsidies if they fully follow the rules, or become ineligible if they don't follow them.