By MIKE CORN
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at the request of wind-power developers, plan to prepare an environmental impact statement that would cover much of Kansas.
The area includes the corridor used by migrating whooping cranes and the troubled lesser prairie chicken range.
What the move will mean remains uncertain, but Rob Manes, director of conservation for the Nature Conservancy in Kansas, said he and others in TNC are trying to figure that out.
"The corridor concept is new to us," Manes said. "I just printed off the map this morning."
Manes, along with two other Kansas wildlife officials, have been among the members of an FWS wind energy task force, whose goal it was to establish voluntary guidelines for building wind farms. FWS also released a second draft of those guidelines Tuesday.
In announcing its plans to develop an environmental impact statement, FWS is asking for public comments during the course of a 90-day comment period.
The agency also plans to conduct a series of meetings in the nine affected states.
In Kansas, that meeting will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Highland Hotel and Convention Center in Great Bend. On Aug. 30, a similar meeting will be at the Holiday Inn in Kearney, Neb.
Manes said he expects to attend the Great Bend session and offer comments there, but said TNC likely will provide written comments as part of the overall request from the federal wildlife agency.
Until he learns more, Manes is undecided on what the move will mean.
"It could be a good thing," he said, but it could spell trouble, especially for an animals such as the lesser prairie chicken.
"It can be a way to mitigate a species right out of existence," he said.
The lesser prairie chicken is especially vulnerable, Manes said, because its habitat is so fragmented.
Lesser prairie chickens rely almost exclusively on large areas of grassland, one of the reasons why Kansas has been something of a bright spot in the health of the animals. Kansas is home to about half of the entire population.
Separately from the wind energy process, FWS has started the process of developing a plan that would move the lesser prairie chicken over onto the endangered species list. It has been a candidate species for about 10 years now.
"I'm not so concerned about whooping cranes," Manes said. "The potential for it to affect chickens is pretty good."